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First-order Idiots

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After Sherlock's presentation on the use of non-classical logic for automated reasoning with uncertain premises, it was time for the most hateful part of the whole conference: questions from the audience. As usual, the questions were long-winded and not particularly clever. In order to stay calm and relatively focused, Sherlock followed the advice Molly had given him: whenever he managed to answer a question without being quite rude – signaled by Molly giving him a thumbs up from the back of the room – he was allowed to make a deduction about one of the audience members. Quietly, in his head, of course.

While offhandedly offering some obvious answers to obvious questions, Sherlock examined the first row of the audience:

Late fifties, obviously American, coffee and a doughnut for breakfast, judging from the remains in his scraggy moustache. The cut of his suit and shirt – nineties fashion, and far too tight – in contrast with the lack of wear on it: his outfit was reserved for rare occasions. The man dressed up for this. An empty spot on his ring finger where obviously a ring used to be: recently divorced or concealing his marriage. Either way, on the prowl.

To his left: PhD student from an upper class family, Ivy League, most likely Harvard or Stanford, suggested by the quality of his clothes and shoes. Eye movements and pupil size point to use of Ritalin or XTC or a combination, likely both recreationally and as a concentration aid. Antiseptic socks: bad foot odour. Content of his notebook looks more like a list of names than actual notes from the presentation: looking for networking opportunities. Wouldn’t be surprising to see him as a senator or presidential candidate a few years on.

To his left: probably Scandinavian, suggested by the particular sweater and extremely fair hair and skin colour. Obviously single, questionable hygiene, judging from the empty chairs around her, in an otherwise quite full room. Two or three cats. Not many friends, but probably a rich online social life, judging from the state of her iPad case. Two books – fiction, not scientific – in the bag at her feet, and no less than four notebooks. Aspiring writer?

Two seats to her left: haircut and posture suggest army background, though not recently. Strong, calloused hands: an engineer. Presence at a computer science conference suggests military robotics then, most likely. DARPA researcher? No, mode of dress obviously British, though the Arabic tag on his bag suggests Middle East-based. Bags under his eyes, crease between the eyebrows: sleeping problems. Hasn’t been back home for a while, buried in his work. Single, never been married, not much contact with his family.

To his left: Mike Stamford, one of Sherlock’s colleagues at St. Bart’s. They didn’t work together, but they ran into each other sometimes. It was worth noting he obviously knew the ex-British ex-army man next to him, judging from his posture. Also, the remains of a ham sandwich in his lap suggested a row with his wife: Sherlock knew that Mike disliked ham, so this was most likely some sort of tiny rebellious move to counter his wife’s attempts to get him to give up meat.

After answering a few questions, Sherlock was discharged by a firm “let’s thank the speaker again” from the conference chair. In an attempt to avoid any of the dimwits in the room asking him more dull questions, Sherlock quickly picked up his laptop, but before he could dash off to the hallway, Mike cornered him, eager smile on his face.

“Sherlock! That was good.”

Sherlock could manage a wry smile. “Thank you, Mike. I do what I have to. Including talking to people after I’ve been relieved of my speaker duty, apparently.”

Mike ignored Sherlock’s last comment and stepped aside to reveal the ex-British ex-army man he’d been sitting next to during Sherlock’s talk. “There’s someone I want you to meet. Sherlock, this is John Watson. John, Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. Things were falling into place. “Polytechnical University of Kabul or University of Technology Baghdad?” he asked.

John blinked, silent for a second. “Sorry?”

Sherlock supposed this man couldn't be blamed for not understanding immediately. Few people would, after all. The whole explanation, then? Most of the time, the satisfaction of confirming correct deductions (high probability) was worth the risk of getting slapped in the face (low probability – usually, people just huffed and puffed and cursed and got on their high horses about personal space, so nothing too bad, really).

“Your posture suggests army, haircut suggests ex-army, tag on your bag indicates you’re still based in the Middle East, but you adhere to English customs. Your presence at a computer science conference, combined with the calluses on your hands, points to a background in robotics. Of course you could simply be a computer scientist who likes gardening, but then, you know Mike, probably from studying engineering at St. Bart’s or, if I remember correctly from Mike’s resume, doing a PhD at UC London. I told Mike this morning I was looking for an international collaborator with a background in robotics, so you must be at least a decent researcher, otherwise he wouldn’t introduce us. Therefore, probably Kabul or Baghdad.”

John’s mouth had fallen open. He looked at Mike, who was standing there looking chuffed as if he had just performed a trick. John blinked and looked back at Sherlock. “That… Was amazing.”

Sherlock almost smiled in surprise. “That’s not what people usually say.” He inhaled sharply. “So. Are you any good?”

John straightened his back, his bright blue eyes piercing Sherlock's in defiance. “In three years I’ve built up a graduate programme from nothing, I’m leading a group of five PhD students and three Postdocs, got three grants accepted, seven journal papers, eleven conference publications co-authored, including the one that I presented yesterday. You?”

“H-index of 21.”

John’s pupils dilated slightly, his eyes still fixed on Sherlock's, who felt the corners of his mouth turn upwards. “You’ll take the lead in supervising the PhD students," Sherlock said, "I’ll coordinate the research agenda.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Sherlock sighed. Maybe this man wasn’t as smart as he seemed, then. But alright, he’d explain. “I’m working on a large grant proposal to set up a new research group, but I need a collaborator with international experience to fit the criteria. Someone with a robotics background and–” he hesitated, but oh well, he could just as well admit it out loud, “–people skills.”

John chuckled. “No, yeah, I sort of got that, but… We’ve only just met and we’re going to work on a proposal together?”

“Problem?”

John shook his head in apparent disbelief. He turned around to look for Mike, who had disappeared, along with the rest of the audience. “Look, let’s get to know each other a bit first, alright? How about lunch?”

“Sure. Conference buffet?”

As they walked through the mostly empty hallway, Sherlock couldn’t help but steal a few glances at John. The way he held himself was intriguing: a slight stiffness in both shoulder and leg, a determined but soft look on his face, the sunlight bouncing off of his skin, and an air of desolation Sherlock couldn't completely place. They entered the dining hall, a spacious, sparsely decorated room with well-stocked counters on three sides.

“So, your presentation yesterday,” Sherlock ventured, while they joined the line for the buffet. “It went well?”

“Quite well, if I may say so. I’ve been working on autonomous robotics for landmine detection.”

Sherlock hummed in approval. “Interesting. How far are you?”

“We’re actually testing our prototype now. We can’t compete with DARPA when it comes to things like medical robotics, prosthetics for amputees and such, but when it comes to testing our things in actual dangerous situations, you can’t beat an area that was a war zone until a couple of years ago.”

Dangerous situations? Sherlock felt oddly protective of this man, even though he probably had almost as much experience with danger as Sherlock himself, though likely in quite different circumstances. Not the desk job type of person, anyway.

Before Sherlock had put his thoughts in order, John spoke again. “Your presentation was quite fine, as well.”

“I know.”

John laughed, his face opening up. His eyes met Sherlock’s. “Humility is not one of your greater qualities, is it?”

Sherlock huffed. “Why should it be?” He saw no reason to hide the truth, unless the situation called for it. Secrets had value sometimes.

Having reached the buffet, John piled various foods on a plate, while Sherlock just carried his empty plate along most of the counter. He wasn't truly hungry, but John's appetite fascinated him.

“What's that?” Sherlock asked suspiciously, while John examined a milky-white custardy substance in a bowl.

“Not the faintest idea,” John said. He shrugged and put some of the substance in a small bowl that he placed on top of the small heap of food on his plate. The man was not hesitant to take up a challenge, Sherlock noted with approval.

As they sat down with their plates in an empty corner of the hotel restaurant, Sherlock said: “You never told me, Kabul or Baghdad.”

“Kabul. Good guess, by the way.”

Sherlock smiled. “I never guess. How did you end up there?”

“After my PhD – you were right, by the way, UC London – I went to Afghanistan as a combat engineer. Seemed like an adventure at the time. And it was. It was hard, but great. Never felt more alive.” John shrugged. “Until I got shot. I got invalided out, and when I’d recovered, the war had ended. So there I was, thirty-five years old, PhD in robotics, but hardly any research experience. I had met a robotics professor in Kabul when I was stationed there, and we… Well, he offered me a job. We worked together. For a while. We were – he quit, after a while.”

Sherlock noted the hesitation in John’s words, his slightly drooping posture, the frown on his face, his lips tightening, the toast on his fork seemingly forgotten. Grief. He had lost something or someone. The professor? Sherlock did his best to keep his face neutral, looking at John in expectation.

John looked up, catching Sherlock’s eye. “I couldn’t leave.” He looked away and swallowed hard. When he started talking again, his voice sounded lighter, though his eyes didn’t reflect any joy. “When my professor was gone, I more or less took over his research group.”

So the departure of his professor actually propelled his career. Then why was he sad about it? Presumably, he never would have got the position otherwise. Sherlock filed the thought away in his list of open questions, to be mulled over later.

John continued, “Suddenly, we’re a couple of years on and I’m still at Kabul. How about you then?”

“Not much to to the story,” Sherlock said. “PhD in mathematical logic at Oxford, Postdoc in applied logic and computer science at King’s College. I worked as an independent consulting researcher for a while, but as it turns out, being your own boss mostly means having to answer to clients, so that didn’t work out. Barts offered me a position at the automated reasoning group. The presence of a 100,000-core supercomputer convinced me.”

“A supercomputer at Barts?” John chuckled. “Bit different from my day.”

“Not everything at an engineering college is still tinkering and screwdrivers, John.”

“Yeah, good point.” John chuckled. “I’m not sure why you’d need me on your proposal, though. You’ve got colleagues working in robotics. And I’ve been doing everything by hand, basically.”

“That’s exactly what I need.”

“Really? In what sense?”

Absent-mindedly, John dipped his spoon in the bowl of milky-white substance and took a bite, only to spit it out onto his plate, gagging.

“Oh, Jesus,” he exclaimed, his eyes watering up. “That is foul. Oh. Gah.” He took his napkin and wiped his tongue with it.

Sherlock did his best to retain his composure. “Not good?”

John took a sip of his milky tea, sloshed it around in his mouth, swallowed hard, and exhaled through his teeth. “Bit not good. I thought that would be sweet.” His eyes crinkled in delight. “Well. That was... Interesting. You want to try?”

He scooped up another spoon and held it out towards Sherlock, who was still not hungry, but undeniably curious, and feeling quite exhilarated by John's eyes so focused on his face. Without thinking much – in passing, he noticed that his brain reacted a bit more slowly than usual, as if he were under the influence of a modest amount of drugs or alcohol – Sherlock leaned forward, his eyes not leaving John's. John held the spoon a bit too far from Sherlock's mouth, his eyes shining with glee, making Sherlock stretch out his neck to reach it. Sherlock wrapped his lips around the spoon, noticing that the contents were fairly gelatinous, and more savory than he'd expected.

He sat back, licking his lips and humming in enthrallment at the peculiar taste and texture of the stuff. John's eyes focused on Sherlock’s mouth, his cheeks turning red. Sherlock wondered why: the food was not hot or spicy, no glassy eyes to indicate a fever, no obvious reason for embarrassment, no strenuous exercise. Maybe a medical condition?

He pushed the thought aside, focusing again on the food. “Interesting. Some sort of coconut jelly, but salty.”

Sherlock's words seemed to rouse John from some sort of trance. John coughed, blinked his eyes and leaned back. “Yeah. Cook's experiment gone wrong, presumably. Anyway, the proposal, right? I assume you have some preliminary ideas?”

They discussed the grant application Sherlock had been working on: a new approach to autonomous robotics, with the novel addition of using fuzzy logic to dictate the system to observe new details on the fly. John offered plenty of ideas, which were not always the brightest, although Sherlock had to admit, some were quite novel and would certainly fit perfectly in the proposal.

When Sherlock was about to list the advantages of using a deductive database, the text message alert on his phone interrupted the conversation. Sherlock rolled his eyes. So predictable.

“Aren’t you going to answer that?” John asked.

“No. It’s obviously one my colleagues, trying to get me to join them for dinner.”

John scoffed. “You haven’t even read the message.”

“They’ve been texting me every day around the same time. I don’t know why they bother.”

“It’s nice of them to invite you, isn’t it?”

“They see it as an obligation. I usually find a good reason to refuse.”

John pondered for a moment, then nodded his head. “I see. Well, it’s not polite to keep them waiting for an answer, then.”

Sherlock smiled. Good, John agreed with him. Sherlock picked up his phone, unlocked it and just started typing a reply when John snatched the phone from his hands and darted across the room. Before Sherlock could even get up, John was already two tables away, furiously tapping on the touch screen with both thumbs, the tip of his tongue showing between his lips in a clear sign of concentration.

Sherlock sat back in his chair. It was obviously too late to interfere.

A few seconds later, John tapped the touch screen with a flourish, nodded to himself, wandered back to the table and handed Sherlock his phone.

“There you go.”

“John. What. Are you doing.”

“I let your colleagues know that we’ll be joining them for dinner.”

“You might have asked.”

“You would have refused.”

Sherlock considered for a moment, then muttered in agreement. “I would have.”

With a sigh, he went back to explaining deductive databases to John. But the idea of dinner with his colleagues seemed less of a bother than the previous days.

Without any fundamental disagreements, they were quickly able to work John's ideas into Sherlock’s, work out a very preliminary version of the general course of the project, although they still disagreed on the separate work packages for the various PhD students and Postdocs. John’s teaching and supervising experience proved indispensable, since Sherlock had a habit of either projecting an unrealistic cleverness on the masses, or on the other hand, assessing them with an apparently unjustified dullness of mind.

When John mentioned some students he already had in mind for these positions, it turned out that apart from Mike, they had more common acquaintances in the small intersection of their academic fields. John was amused to no end at Sherlock’s quaint little deductions of their private lives, based on the last time he’d seen them. It turned out that John had actually spoken with most of them socially at earlier conferences, enabling him to offer confirmations of some gossip and stunned looks of incredulity at others.

John’s admiration made Sherlock feel lighter and brighter than ever. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from John’s face, exploring every inch from a distance, the way John laughed, squinted his eyes in shock or confusion, pursed his lips in doubt, and met his eyes sometimes for minutes on end.

When a waiter approached them to ask if they were finished, they looked up for the first time in what had seemed like twenty minutes maybe, and Sherlock was surprised to see the restaurant completely empty. Apparently they had been sitting there for over four hours. Sherlock raised his eyebrows, taken aback by the slipping of time, which usually only happened when he was deeply immersed in some sort of complicated proof or simulation.

“I have to admit,” John said, leaning back and straightening his chequered shirt, “this has been the best scientific discussion I’ve had in years. I like not being the smartest person in the room for once.”

“I am quite unfamiliar with the feeling, but I imagine it must be nice,” Sherlock said.

John scoffed. “You’re a bastard, you know that?”

Sherlock was confused by the contradiction between John’s smiling eyes and the negative content of his comment, but before he could address it, he was distracted by the sudden awareness of their knees touching under the table. How long had they been sitting like that? It felt odd, but nice. Usually he didn’t care for physical contact with other people and even tried to avoid it as much as possible. As John looked at him, his face completely friendly and open, Sherlock felt a little tingle in his stomach. John actually seemed to like him. Curious.

Chapter Text

When John came back to his hotel room to freshen up before supper, he couldn’t suppress a smile. It had seemed like a good idea to meet Sherlock’s colleagues, if there was a chance they’d be working together. He was actually looking forward to dinner tonight, as long as he could find a way to sit next to Sherlock Holmes. But just because of the collaboration, just because of the proposal and the professional discussions. It had nothing at all to do with Sherlock’s piercing eyes that John couldn’t get out of his mind.

The afternoon hadn’t quite been what John had expected. He had been looking forward to attending the workshop on interactive visualisations of the human body from one of MIT’s computer science graduates that he’d met at an earlier conference, but instead, he had spent the whole afternoon talking about a grant proposal and gossiping with this strange and impolite and brilliant man, Sherlock Holmes.

John shook his head. Yes, he was quite peculiar, this man. There was something alien about his looks, with his remarkable cheekbones and his bright eyes and the unusual shape of his lips. Not to mention his posh suit, at a conference for crying out loud. People were bound to think he was an industry rep or something. And the way he talked about people. He seemed to have no regard at all for other people’s dignity, but he spoke of others in such a detached way that John could hardly be offended.

Maybe it was because of the fact that everything about Sherlock was so unusual, that John had barely been able to tear his eyes away from Sherlock’s face. And that his presence stirred up feelings John hadn’t had in years, knocking the breath out of him every time Sherlock laughed because of something John said. On the other hand, John had to admit, maybe he just felt surprised and flattered that Sherlock had only needed half a moment to decide that he had wanted to collaborate with John on a grant proposal.

John sat down on his bed and rubbed his face. Maybe this would be his opportunity to leave Kabul, the sandy shithole that he’d come to hate. Sure, he had enjoyed leading his research group, but now that everything was up and running, the tediousness of everyday life was beginning to get to him. A strange tediousness, admittedly, between the rubble and heartbreak. Everyone around him in Kabul was damaged by the war, more or less literally. So was he, in more ways than one. It was time.

When John entered the hotel lobby half an hour later, he saw Sherlock Holmes at the far side of the hall, cornered by a small group of younger researchers. Sherlock’s eyes scanned the room, and as he spotted John, he smiled. Before John caught himself, he was already smiling back, his stomach suddenly in his throat. Sherlock broke away from the group and sauntered off towards John, followed by a trail of researchers who looked at him as if he were taking away their ice lollies.

Before Sherlock had reached him, John heard a voice from behind him: “So, he’s got a new pet then, hasn’t he?” Turning around, he saw a younger woman with dark curly hair looking at him skeptically.

“What, who?” John said, a bit confused.

“Sherlock Holmes. I saw you two making eyes at each other.”

“What? We’re not… Who are you, anyway?”

“Sally Donovan. Colleague of Sherlock’s.” She held out her hand. John shook it briefly, displaying the barest minimum of politeness, before returning his hands to their previous position behind his back.

“John Watson, Kabul Polytech.” John looked towards Sherlock, who was still striding towards them, now with a guarded and hostile look in his eyes.

“Watch out with him, John Watson,” Sally said. “He doesn’t make friends. He’ll do anything to get credit. For a logician, he has a strange interest in dead bodies. Psych’s not my area, but I dare hypothesise he’s a psychopath.”

As Sherlock reached them, he smiled an ugly fake smile at Sally that made John recoil internally. Was this the same man from earlier this afternoon?

“Hello, freak. Found a new victim then?” She nodded her head towards John.

John scoffed. “Excuse me, I’m standing right here.”

“I see you actually slept in your own hotel room last night?” Sherlock asked Sally, a cold tone in his voice that John didn't at all recognise from earlier.

John rolled his eyes. If this was the atmosphere of collaboration in Sherlock’s research group, he really had to think twice about wanting to join Sherlock at Barts.

Sally’s half-formed answer was cut off by a cheerful “Sherlock, hi!” from a young woman who had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, at Sherlock’s side.

She smiled up at Sherlock as if he was her boyfriend. Wait, was he? Who were all these women and why were they all so affected by Sherlock, albeit in different ways? When John’s knee had brushed against Sherlock’s under the table earlier this afternoon, and neither of them had moved away, John had taken that as some introductory form of flirting. But maybe it had just been an expression of being comfortable with each other. Although Sherlock didn’t seem like the touchy-feely type of person – or was he?

In the feeling of intoxication at the awareness of their knees touching, John hadn’t even realised Sherlock might not actually be single, let alone gay – or even if he were, maybe not looking for someone. John pursed his lips. He shouldn’t even be thinking about this at all. He hadn’t made a connection this quickly with anyone since… Well, best not to think about that for now. He winced at the memory of feeding Sherlock that awful coconut concoction. He had gotten carried away in an adolescent attempt at flirting, and now he could only hope that nobody had noticed.

When one of the women held out her hand, he managed to pull his thoughts back to the present.

“Molly Hooper,” she said. “I run stuff. I mean, on computers. I do the HPC? Sorry, I...” She winced at John’s confused look. “I tend to forget that that’s not a common term. The high performance computing facilities. I run them, at Barts.”

“Ah, I see. John Watson.” He shook her hand, smiling. “Polytechnical University of Kabul. I was indeed not familiar with the term, but that’s probably rather my fault than yours.” She smiled back at him.

Next to Molly, a handsome grey-haired man held up his hand in greeting.

“Hi. Greg Lestrade, professor at Barts. Sherlock’s boss, though he won’t like me saying that. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands. Greg was unusually handsome, a silver fox if John had ever seen one. John drew his shoulders back a little, suddenly conscious of his smaller stature.

“And you’ve met Sally,” Sherlock said, indicating the woman next to Greg.

“Yeah,” John said. “Hi. Thanks for letting me join, I thought it’d be good to meet you all. Has Sherlock told you we might work on a proposal together?”

“Yeah.” Greg nodded. “I told him to find someone to collaborate with on a proposal. He’s been working with me for a few years now, it’s time he brought in some money.”

Sherlock scoffed. “Money is a trivial detail, best to be abstracted from. Time spent writing grant proposals is time not spent doing actual–”

“Sherlock. We’ve talked about this,” Greg interrupted. He turned to John. “For all his talent, I’ve still not been able to get Sherlock to understand that research alone doesn’t pay for his desk, or his computing equipment. As much as I wish it did.”

Sherlock was looking grumpier with each word.

“Look, I hope to help with that,” John said, cutting off some grumbling half-reply from Sherlock. “I’ll do my best anyway, and we’ll see. Is this the whole group yet?”

“Yeah,” Molly said. “Mike texted me that he couldn’t make it. Shall we go then?”

In the chorus of agreements, Sally interjected a sharp “Sorry.”

“What?” Sherlock asked, a prickly tone in his voice. “You hadn’t expected me to join, and now you’re suddenly feeling apprehensive?”

“I just realised I have a Skype meeting in an hour,” Sally said.

“Ah. Skype meeting with Anderson, no doubt? Good luck. Remember to turn on your virus scanner, wouldn’t want to get an STD again, would you?”

Sally sighed and turned to John. “Right. You see what I mean?” she said under her breath. John, meanwhile, did his best not to giggle.

All through supper, the four of them – Greg, Molly, Sherlock and John – discussed the seminars and presentations they had seen today. Sherlock’s colleagues were compelling people. Greg seemed like he’d never been fazed by anything; Molly, on the other hand, by everything.

Sherlock appeared just as reluctant as John to reveal that they had completely lost track of time that afternoon, instead pretending that it had been a planned work meeting. He was uniformly critical of all the presentations he had seen, but offered such absurd and witty criticisms that they were all a bit giddy by the time dessert arrived. John felt high on fondness for Sherlock and kept having to remind himself to look at Greg and Molly every now and then, for fear that his nearly continuous gaze at Sherlock would not stay unnoticed.

“You could really tell that he’d had his last three papers rejected by the look of his slides?” John asked, astonished.

“Easy,” Sherlock answered. “Not to mention he wasted his EPSRC grant on a talentless PhD student, and his boss is thinking of firing him.”

“Speaking of which, I really hope your grant gets accepted,” Greg said. “If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know. And John, if you are considering to join our group as a visiting researcher, to which you’re more than welcome, by the way–” he toasted John with his half empty glass “–prepare yourself for some interesting group dynamics.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Sally is just uncomfortable around me because I keep reminding her that she shouldn’t sleep with Anderson.”

“Yeah, I meant to ask earlier, who’s Anderson?” John said.

“Another colleague,” Greg said. “One of our scientific programmers. He’s guarding the fort at Barts.”

“Guarding the fort?” Sherlock asked, with a mix between annoyance and amusement. “I wouldn’t trust him to keep a dead body from escaping. Have you ever even heard the man’s questions at the seminar? It’s like he’s never opened a book in his life.”

“Come on, Sherlock,” Molly said. “Be nice.”

As John crossed his legs under the table, his shin touched against Sherlock’s leg, maybe not quite accidentally, and remained there. The warmth from Sherlock’s calf, even through two layers of trousers, felt like a battery charger, shooting a narrow beam of power up John's leg. John swallowed, looking at his empty dessert plate, then forced himself to look at Sherlock, who looked him straight in the eye, raising a corner of his mouth almost unnoticeably. Or was he just imagining things?

John broke the gaze.

No. Bollocks.

He really needed to cool the fuck down. This crush was a very unwelcome guest in a professional working relationship, and that made him nervous. What if the grant proposal got accepted and they were going to work together? John could hardly expect to lead a research group with Sherlock if every gaze from him made John feel weak in the knees like a bloody sixteen-year-old.

And, not unimportantly, Sherlock’s bright-coloured eyes seemed to be able to look right through him, which made him nervous that Sherlock could read every fantasy that crossed his mind about Sherlock’s mouth on his, Sherlock’s hands on him, the sounds Sherlock would make when–

Stop. Right now. Focus on the conversation at the supper table. Come on. Concentrate.

When John managed to pull his table companions back into focus, Greg was just going over some options for the rest of the evening.

“I spoke to some youngsters from the computer science group at Birmingham, who are going out to a bar across the street from the conference hotel. Apparently everyone's going to be there," he said.

Sherlock grimaced. “That sounds positively awful. I’m assuming there will be people. And dancing.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” John said. He was not ready for the evening to be over.

“Yes!” Molly chirped. “Ooh, I’ve been longing for a good party ever since Jim and I broke up.”

“I’m not much of a dancer, but I’m up for a little spin if you are,” John told Molly, smiling.

“Look, I said nothing about dancing,” Greg said, a corner of his mouth raised. “I’ll just stand on the side drinking a pint, if you don’t mind.”

Molly laughed. “I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful dancer, Greg.”

“Alright,” John said, “we’ve got three yeses, one no. Sherlock? I’ll buy you a pint. You won’t have to dance. You and Greg can do an impression of the grumpy old men from the Muppet Show. Sorry, Greg.”

“Yeah, don’t worry, mate,” Greg answered. “Happy to oblige.”

Sherlock sighed. “You’ll stop nagging me then?”

John felt his chest tense at the expectation of more time with Sherlock. “For the rest of the evening, at least. We’ll go right away?”

“Let’s make a short stop at the hotel on the way,” Sherlock said. “I assume at least Molly will need some time to make herself look presentable.”

Molly scowled. Greg put his hand on her arm.

“Sherlock, shut up,” John burst out, softly, but sternly. “I’m sure we’d all like to brush our teeth. We’ll walk back to the hotel together and meet in the lobby, say, twenty minutes later?”

He motioned to the waiter to get the check. As the group walked back to the hotel together, John lagged behind a bit, lost in thought. This collaboration with Sherlock, which had started only a few hours ago, had turned quite confusing already. Sherlock’s rudeness was only one of his worries, although the way Sherlock interacted with his colleagues did make John feel a bit uneasy.

More concerning was his crush on Sherlock. What if something would happen between them and escalate and turn into a relationship so they wouldn’t be able to work together anymore? He really didn’t want to get into that situation again. He needed to be absolutely certain that he and Sherlock could really work together professionally before starting an enormous research project.

He had been foolish, collaborating on a grant proposal with a complete stranger. Almost like moving in with someone a day after meeting them.

“John.” As Molly and Greg entered the hotel, Sherlock stayed behind and now blocked John’s entrance to the hotel. He looked confused, searching John’s face for… For what? Sherlock’s body hovered close to John’s, enabling John to see the minute creases around Sherlock’s eyes and smell the curry and Earl Grey tea on his breath. Did he feel it too, the serious risk of coming only an inch too close and then being drawn in completely?

John drew back, looked away and inhaled deeply. “Sherlock, come on. Go inside.” He avoided Sherlock’s eyes. He was really not ready to deal with this right now. It would be easier to get away from Sherlock and cool off a bit, especially since he’d had a few glasses of wine, and he really didn’t want to risk doing anything improper.

“What did I do? Is it something about the proposal? Should I not have put in that one clause about public-private collaborations?” If John wasn’t mistaken, Sherlock’s voice wavered a bit.

“Honestly, don’t worry about it. Let’s just forget the research for now. I’ll see you in twenty minutes.”

John slipped past Sherlock into the hotel. He was determined to have fun tonight at least, enjoy the company of nice people. Have some drinks, not dwell on this, not think about the grant proposal or group dynamics or nightmarish research projects or people who were too handsome for their own good. Tomorrow would be early enough for worry.

Chapter Text

Sherlock tapped his feet while he was brushing his teeth. He had been having an unusual amount of fun in a social situation tonight. Still, he felt a bit uneasy because John told him off for his remark about Molly, which he didn’t really understand. And John had remained aloof afterwards. Wasn’t it perfectly acceptable behaviour for women to groom themselves and make themselves look pretty? Molly was actually quite good at that, usually. It hadn’t seemed like anything bad to say.

Sherlock hadn’t wanted to admit that he was really the one who needed some primping time. For some reason he had felt a strong urge to brush his teeth, change into his favourite shirt and pick up his long coat, but his earlier experiences had taught him that people would call him a poof when he made too-obvious attempts to look good. He wanted to avoid that tonight.

Ten minutes later, he walked into the lobby, where John was already sitting on one of the couches, reading a nondescript leaflet about sightseeing tours in the area. Sherlock sat down next to him, trying not to feel self-conscious as John looked up at him and narrowed his eyes.

“Nice shirt,” John said.

“The other one had a stain.”

“No it didn’t.”

Sherlock felt his cheeks warm up and looked away, turning up his coat collar. John raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Sherlock’s mind raced. It frustrated him to no end that he couldn't seem to work John out, and now he wasn't sure what was wrong and how he could fix it. Should he apologise for what he said earlier? Even when he didn’t really understand why what he said was wrong? Was John even angry at him? Or was he just tired? Or uninterested? Was he having second thoughts about the grant proposal? Why didn’t he want to talk about the proposal? Why did he smell so awfully good?

Sherlock was bothered by the response time of his brain, which seemed to work more slowly than usual. He shifted in his seat, widening the distance between John and himself. The undefinable feeling in his stomach was unpleasant. He really should have eaten more. For the first time in years, Sherlock wished he was good at smalltalk. He thought he had abstracted from that at some point during his PhD, and turned off the wish to get along well with the people around him. But right now he felt the need to reach out to John – not physically, obviously, but to make some sort of connection. What did one say when feeling nervous, excited, apprehensive, flushed, slightly aroused – where did that even come from? – and confused at the same time?

He was startled by John getting up and walking towards Molly. He wasn’t even sure how much time had passed since he’d sat down next to John. Time tended to slip away from him when he was buried in his thoughts like that.

“Molly, that’s a fabulous dress,” John said, grabbing Molly's hands as she approached. Sherlock frowned. He hadn't even seen her making her way across the lobby.

Molly blushed and did a curtsy. “Thanks, that’s sweet of you.”

“Only the truth,” John said with a wink.

Sherlock let his head drop back and raised his eyes to the ceiling. What, was John nice to everyone else now? Earlier that day, Sherlock had got the idea that John actually liked him, which didn’t happen often. Sure, Molly and Greg were alright, they tolerated him, but they were always on guard, waiting for a rude remark or an inappropriate question. John, though, had seemed to genuinely appreciate him. But now it seemed that maybe he just liked everyone, not particularly Sherlock. And from the last few things he’d said, maybe he was already starting to develop an aversion to him, just like everyone else.

It really bothered Sherlock that he seemed to be falling from grace with John already. It made him feel strange and unsteady, as if he were standing on a rooftop without a fence to hold onto, surely partially because of the wine, but there was some sort of unpleasant tingle in his throat, a strain along his jaw, that he didn't recognise.

He needed more time to think, but now Molly was pulling on his elbow for him to stand up so they could leave. John and Greg were almost out the door already, chatting about something trivial, no doubt.

They crossed the street and entered the bar, which seemed stuck in a time decades past, dark wooden paneling on the sides, dusty strings of multicoloured lights on the walls, some nondescript eighties music playing over gritty speakers. The smoke stung Sherlock’s eyes. He quickly estimated that there were approximately eighty people there, three quarters of which conference visitors. Two bartenders, one of which was the owner of the bar, the other a relapsed alcoholic. Group near the door were thinking about leaving without paying the bill. (They’d most likely be caught by the bouncer, who was smarter than he looked.) Drug dealer – only light stuff, though – in the far left corner, tolerated by the owner.

At the far end of the bar, Sherlock spotted the group of young researchers from earlier today. When they had collectively come up to him in the lobby, he had felt ambushed at first, reliving all the times he’d been bullied and assaulted as a student. But they’d only wanted to know about his ‘trade secrets’. He had laughed, and told them that they’d need to gain a few IQ points and lose a few friends, and if they’d be nice and not bother him for the rest of the conference, he’d tell them the differential equation so they could work out the parameters to reach a global optimum. He grinned to himself when he remembered his “And now scurry!” that he’d come up with to dispel the group. They would most likely leave him alone now.

When Sherlock turned around after hanging up his coat near the door, Molly and John were already off towards the small, crowded dance floor. Greg nudged Sherlock’s arm.

“Drink?”

“What’s the strongest they’ve got here?” He really needed a distraction from the fact that his brain seemed to be working against him.

“Really? I thought you didn’t like clouding your brilliant mind with alcohol,” Greg said, grinning and strangely emphasizing the nouns and adjectives in his statement.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. Greg raised an eyebrow as if he knew what Sherlock was thinking about, which annoyed him to no end.

“Don’t worry,” Greg said. “I’ll get you something.”

After a short exchange with the bartender, he handed Sherlock a shot glass and a pint of lager.

“Cheers. God knows I could use it as well.”

“Wife off again then?” Sherlock had had his suspicions from the start of the conference, but Greg’s drinking behaviour was a clear confirmation.

“Jesus, Sherlock, shut up.”

Greg raised his shot glass to Sherlock’s and downed the shot in one go. Sherlock did the same, feeling the burn in his throat. It tasted foul, but at least it was a distraction. Greg and Sherlock both put their shot glasses down on the bar, grabbed their pints, and turned towards the crowd.

“So, grant proposal working out fine?” Greg asked.

“To be honest, I don’t know. And I don’t like not knowing.”

“Anything I can do?”

“No, you wouldn’t be much help.”

Greg scoffed, shaking his head. He looked at John and Molly on the dance floor and then at Sherlock, exhaling slowly.

“Look,” he said, nudging Sherlock with his elbow and gesturing with his chin towards the quiet end of the bar. “That bird over there in the plaid shirt. Think I’d have a chance with her?”

Sherlock relaxed, only now noticing how tense he had been. This, he could do. With a smirk, he told Greg in no uncertain terms that the woman in the plaid shirt was clearly gay, had two dogs with her live-in girlfriend, with whom she was starting a cupcake bakery. A ridiculous venture, of course, in this economy.

When he turned back towards Greg, he was surprised to see John standing next to him instead, nursing a pint. He had a guarded look on his face.

“Er, hello. Not on the dance floor anymore?” Sherlock said, and immediately winced. Obviously John was not on the dance floor anymore. How was this the best he could think of? Was he turning into – he recoiled at the thought – a normal person?

John didn’t deign to answer his question, a distinct tension in his jaw. “Greg told me to keep an eye on you.”

Sherlock took a large swig of his lager, and wished he had another shot to down right now, to distract himself from his own awkwardness.

“Where is Greg, anyway?” Sherlock asked. “We were enjoying ourselves poking fun at the crowd.”

“He wanted to dance with Molly. Something about her being the only decent available woman in the bar?”

“Ah. Well. Might have had something to do with that. Oops.”

“Look,” John said, “if you’re not enjoying yourself, just go. It’s not like I dragged you here.”

Wait, what? No, this wasn't fair. Sherlock scoffed. “You were the one who invited me, you convinced me it’d be fun.” He punctuated the last word as though it was an obscenity.

John made a wry face, slightly shaking his head. “I thought you would enjoy yourself. I just thought you needed a little push.”

“I know perfectly well what sort of things I like and what sort of things I don’t. Social situations are obviously in that last category. You’re the only reason I’m here.”

John turned towards him and looked at him inquisitively. “Sherlock, I’m sorry, I was going to bring this up tomorrow, but I can’t get it out of my head. I really need to figure you out before I can agree to continue working on the proposal together.”

“Figure me out, how?” A feeling of dread crept up in Sherlock’s stomach.

John hesitated. “I just don’t know if we can work together on a daily basis without… Without things escalating. You know what I mean?”

Sherlock’s heart dropped. He swallowed, his mind suddenly working overtime. John’s question had set off a surge of adrenaline in his brain, jolting his thoughts back into action. The problem was clear: John found Sherlock’s behaviour unacceptable, he thought they would surely get into an enormous fight, and that was making him doubt the collaboration.

Rightfully so, of course. Hardly a surprising turn of events. Sherlock chided himself for not even having been able to work it out for himself.

There were a few options with obvious outcomes, as shown by data that Sherlock had collected from his earlier interactions with people. He could try his hardest to be more like a normal person, only to inevitably fail. He could carry on as though nothing had happened, only to inevitably have John hate and abandon him.

Hang on. A step back. A third option presented itself. The term ‘expectation management’ popped up in his head, something Greg had said at one of their previous meetings. He could try to at least salvage as much as possible. He needed to convince John to continue working on the proposal with him, at least. Maybe John would accept a half-way out, if offered. And there was a way... Sherlock knew what people said about him, and there surely was some truth in it. It should work. It had to. At least he had to try.

He steeled himself, forcing any glimmer of doubt from his eyes before he raised them to meet John’s. “John, I have to tell you something.”

“Yeah, what is it?” John still looked distrustful.

“I’m a sociopath.”

John narrowed his eyes in confusion. “What? What do you mean?”

Sherlock took a deep breath. No turning back now. “I should have told you before. I tend to rub people the wrong way. No harm meant. I was diagnosed as a high-functioning sociopath in my teens.”

John looked at him for a few seconds, then seemed to have made up his mind about something. He downed the remaining third of his pint in one gulp, put the glass down on the bar, grabbed Sherlock’s elbow and pulled him towards the door.

“John…” Sherlock ventured, but if John heard, he didn’t respond.

As they exited the bar, John all but placed Sherlock right against the outer wall as if he were a doll. Sherlock didn’t have the presence of mind to object. From corner of his eye, he could see the bouncer raise an eyebrow at them.

“This is not a conversation to be had in a crowded bar,” John said, then hesitated, softness entering his voice. He let go of Sherlock's arms. “I just thought… Honestly, I don’t know what I thought. I thought Sally just said that to insult you.”

“I appreciate your kindness, John, but you don’t know me. People tend to avoid me unless they really need me, and for good reasons, as you will no doubt discover.” Sherlock’s throat felt too small for the words. John didn’t reply.

Sherlock forced a smile. “Potential collaborators should know the worst about each other.” He realised his heart was beating fast and hard in his chest. Adrenaline, probably caused by John’s doubtful frown. Suddenly he felt the need to mitigate the damage, lighten the mood a bit.

“I could have pretended that my worst traits are that I play the violin in my office and sometimes I don’t talk for days on end, but...” He let his voice trail off.

John chuckled and raised his eyebrows. “That would have made you sound like a bit of a pretentious wanker, to be honest.” He took a deep breath. “Alright, so. I’m not sure what to say. What does this mean?”

“I don’t like people, people don’t like me. If you expect anything else, you’ll be disappointed.” Sherlock kept his face straight, moving his lips fast, getting the words out as quickly as possible in an attempt to minimise the foul taste they left in his mouth. It didn’t work.

He paused and caught John’s eye. “It’s all the more reason for us to work together. I need you, John. You’re kind. You know how to talk to people without making them shout at you, or worse. I couldn’t expect to supervise anyone if my life depended on it. But I can be civil as long as you don’t bore me.”

John sighed, dropped his hands. The energy from earlier in the day seemed to have completely drained from him. “I…” He lowered his gaze. “Thank you for sharing this with me. I guess I have to think about it a bit more.”

Sherlock felt a stab of defeat in his chest. He clenched his eyes shut as John turned around and crossed the street. This didn’t feel like a relief at all. It didn’t feel like a resolution. He felt his face distort, as if he’d had to do his best to keep it straight. But surely this had been the hard part. From now on it would only get easier.

Chapter Text

The next morning at the hotel breakfast buffet, John shuffled up to the toaster, feeling not completely awake yet.

“Morning!”

John almost jumped at the sound of Mike Stamford’s cheerful voice in his ear. He sounded far too awake for this time of morning.

“Sleep well?” Mike asked. “I heard there was a fine party last night.”

“Sure.” John swallowed, carefully studying the different types of jam on the table. “It was fine.”

“Too bad I missed it, had a conference call with Sydney late last night.” Mike started piling toast and bacon on his plate. “And of course I’m presenting this morning, so I really wanted to avoid any sign of hangover. Any specific plans for today? I’m looking forward to the keynote after lunch.”

Mike babbled on, and John let him, his thoughts drifting off to last night. His initial feeling of disappointment at Sherlock’s revelation had quickly been replaced with a sense of relief. Of course he was a bit disappointed that his crush on Sherlock was unrequited, because apparently the man didn’t feel emotions. On the bright side, it was actually quite convenient: it meant that he could safely work together with Sherlock without any danger of it escalating into a relationship and ruining their collaboration.

This was making things so much simpler.

“And how are your grant proposal plans with Sherlock coming along?” Mike asked as they sat down at an empty table.

“Yeah, I don’t know. We had a bit of a quarrel last night.”

“Ah.” Mike sighed. “Sherlock being Sherlock again? Should’ve warned you, maybe.”

“Warned me?”

“Look, I’m sure he means well, but socially…” Mike puffed up his cheeks and blew out air. “Let’s say he can get a bit distracted from social conventions when his mind’s too much on research.” He shrugged. “I can’t really be bothered, I’ve had people be an arse to me all my life. It’s harder on Molly.”

“Yeah, I can see that.” John chuckled. “She still seems to like him, though.”

Mike laughed. You don’t have to be Sherlock to observe that. Suppose it may be the looks rather than the manners, then. Though you’re a better judge of that than I am, obviously.”

John avoided Mike’s eyes and nodded, forcing a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, sure.”

Mike looked at him and narrowed his eyes. “Really, don’t take Sherlock being an arse personally. I just take it as a good sign, generally.”

“Sherlock being rude is a good sign?”

“Yeah. It means he’s completely intrigued by something. Completely focused.”

“Huh. Interesting.” John shook his head. “He told me he’s a psychopath, though. No, sorry, sociopath. Not even sure if I should tell you this. But you'll keep it to yourself, yeah?”

“Yeah, of course, mate. Really, though?”

“High-functioning sociopath, he called it. Or is it common knowledge? Sally said something along the same lines.”

Mike tilted his head to the side. “I never really took the rumours seriously, to be honest. If I'd have to put a label on it, I'd rather estimate him somewhere on the autism spectrum.” He shrugged. “I don't know. Usually he just ignores people, really.”

“Yeah, he told me he'd rather work alone. How do you reckon he supervises students, though?”

“He has to do some supervision, of course.” Mike shrugged. “In practice he just hands them off to me or Molly, in exchange for working out a proof or doing difficult calculations or something. The man is an arse, but at least he’s talented.”

John took a sip of his tea, his muddled thoughts about Sherlock slowly separating into something sensible. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“It’s not like you’re such an angel, though,” Mike said, grinning widely. “Remember that one time I had to keep you from head-butting that Swiss postdoc?”

“To be fair, he was being a right wanker. But you have a point, I suppose.”

“Look, Sherlock’s not a bad person. He’s just a loner.”

“Yeah. Greg's making him apply for grants, I don't even think he'd have talked to me otherwise. Poor man.”

Mike scoffed. “Oh come on, like writing proposals is anyone's hobby.”

“Fair point. How about you, then? Working on anything at the moment?”

Their conversation meandered off into casual smalltalk about the trivialities of academic life, until Mike politely excused himself to prepare for his presentation. As John finished his toast, he realised he felt almost ready to face Sherlock. He couldn’t deny still being attracted to him, but the knowledge that his crush was sure to stay unrequited had already taken much of his anxiety away.

John felt cautiously optimistic about the collaboration with Sherlock. He honestly thought Sherlock was quite delightful and funny, if a bit crude at times. Most of his colleagues seemed to tolerate him, and Molly even seemed to really like him, despite his occasional rude comments to her.

Speaking of which, he hadn’t seen Molly at breakfast today. And actually most of Sherlock’s colleagues seemed to be missing. Well, Mike had been there, of course, and he’d seen Sally at the breakfast buffet. Sherlock was probably holed up in his room, as far away from people as possible. Then apart from Molly, the only other person missing was… Oh.

After what Greg had said last night?

Well.

John couldn’t be sure of anything, of course. And surely they wouldn’t, would they? Greg wasn’t directly Molly’s boss, but he was hierarchically above her. Then again, stranger things had happened at conferences. Even John himself had had a bit of a reputation during his younger years. Anyway, Sherlock could probably see with only half a glance who had ended up in bed together. Might be fun to ask him.

And speak of the devil, when John entered the lobby on his way back to his room, he saw Sherlock working on his laptop in the lobby, a cup of tea on the low table in front of him. John wondered what Sherlock had got up to last night after John had left. Would he have stayed at the bar long? He hadn’t seemed to enjoy himself much. John almost felt guilty for dragging him out there.

John wondered if Sherlock was the type of man who would go home with someone after a night out. He hardly seemed the type to pick someone up in a bar. Then again, Sherlock was obviously a man who knew what he wanted and didn't hesitate to make it so. And with his looks, he could surely pick up anyone he set his mind to. Sherlock had made clear that he didn’t have friends, which would also, presumably, mean he didn’t do relationships. Or did he? He certainly had to have desires as well, physical needs…

John faltered on his way to the elevator, hesitated, not sure if he should walk up to Sherlock right now and talk about the proposal and apologise for storming off last night. No, he’d brush his teeth first. He wanted to look presentable when talking to Sherlock.

Riding the elevator up to his floor, John caught himself imagining what would have happened if he had met Sherlock in a bar, no history of badly ended relationships behind him, no collaboration on the way, no personality disorder between them, just two strangers ending up at adjacent bar stools, having a pint, perhaps watching a game on the telly in the corner, chatting about nothing, knees touching, elbows bumping, a smile at the right moment, eyes lingering, backs of fingers brushing, a comment in the other man's ear, the faint smell of soap and cigarette smoke, the feel of breath on bare skin, a hand on an arm, barely covert gazes at eyes and lips, the knowledge of what was to come, more audacious touching: hands on knees, fingers intertwining, lips touching earlobes when whispering.

When the elevator announced John's floor with a polite ‘ding’, John was already half hard. He strode to his room, praying for the corridor to stay empty, and fumbled with his keycard, meanwhile imagining cheeks touching and hands sliding upwards on thighs, a single word as an invitation. His mind lingered on images of these fictional versions of himself and Sherlock, meeting in the loo, sliding closer, lips first brushing and then crushing, hands on necks, sliding down to buttocks, tongues exploring mouths, teeth softly pulling on lips, breaths catching.

When he entered his room, he kicked the door closed and dropped back on his bed in a frenzy. He opened his trousers and slid his pants down, freeing his erection. With an urgency he had not often felt from merely a fantasy, he licked his palm and slid his fist around his cock. God, that felt good. And the fantasy hadn't even reached the actually dirty part yet, John realised with some amusement.

He stroked his erection with increasing intensity, building up the fire in his gut, imagining teeth on earlobes, lips on necks, pulling hips against hips, erections rubbing against each other through layers of clothing, hands opening trousers and sliding inside pants, touching hot skin, feeling the hardness of–

John came, exhaling hard in a shudder, turning his head and biting his pillow to keep himself from making more noise.

Wow.

He chuckled.

And he hadn't even got to the really dirty part yet.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was bored. Bored! Despite everything, he’d decided to attend a random parallel track on something to do with computer architecture. Something as far from his own expertise as possible would offer him the greatest chance at a distraction. He sat down in the back row, determined to ask difficult questions when the time came, but for now, he opened up his laptop again. He had a sizable backlog of emails to work on, and he had discovered that having a distraction on hand made it much less likely for him to get annoyed by people’s uninteresting emails.

Much to his dismay, his mind had been stuck on John for… Well, it had only been less than a day, hadn’t it? He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t seem to tear his mind away from the man. He was only a potential colleague, after all. Their conversation outside the bar last night had done enough to take away any thoughts in the back of his mind that a friendship might be in the books for them. For a moment, he had thought there could be something more than only a professional collaboration, but he chided himself now for getting his hopes up.

It was a good thing that they’d had this conversation, that they had established that they would only be working together professionally. It would at least prevent Sherlock from getting any more ideas. After John had run off to the hotel, Sherlock had gone back inside the bar, trying not to feel lost or left behind, but the music was too loud, the people too annoying, the whole crowd obviously had stupid thoughts on their minds, and Greg was so immersed in dancing with Molly that Sherlock hadn’t even had him to be grumpy with. Deducing strange things about people was hardly as enjoyable without an audience.

In bed, though, alone with his thoughts, things had been worse. After a few hours of intermittent half-sleep, Sherlock had given up, and for want of another distraction, resumed working on the proposal. He hated it when his mind didn’t cooperate. It turned out to be extremely difficult to switch off his thoughts about John’s flawless eyes, the way his lips moved when he laughed, how he held his head when he listened carefully.

Speak of the devil , Sherlock thought when John entered the room, but immediately dismissed the thought, since John had been the main thing on his mind for the past twenty hours or so. It was hardly a coincidence if one of the events concerned was a constant.

“Morning,” John said, sitting down next to Sherlock. Sherlock looked him over. Cheerful voice, toast and coffee for breakfast, and – hm. Really?

“Do you often start your days with a wank?” he asked.

The woman sitting in front of them did a bad job of hiding her laugh in a cough, and half turned around in a badly disguised attempt to overhear. Sherlock didn’t care.

Apparently John did.

“Excuse me?” John’s tone had turned to disapproval and his cheerful look had vanished.

Oh. Not good? Everyone masturbated every now and then, and Sherlock couldn’t see the problem in pointing it out.

“What?” Sherlock asked. “It’s not like you’re the only one in the room. I could point out at least seven – no, eight –”

“Sherlock!” John’s voice had turned to a whisper, but an urgent one. “This is not something people talk about in public.”

“As I clearly remember telling you, John, social conventions don't bother me.” Sherlock didn’t care for lowering his voice when he couldn’t see fault in what he was saying.

John made a face. “But you don’t like it when people get mad at you, do you?”

“It’s a bit of a fuss, but it’s quite inevitable, unless I censor myself to a point that I find uncomfortable.”

“Look,” John said under his breath, “it's not okay to point out someone's masturbation habits in public.”

“Oh, but we weren’t even talking about habits. Although I could probably–”

“Sherlock! Shut up. Just don’t mention masturbation again.”

“But the internet is full of it. Different types, tips, you can even download–”

“Sherlock, really…” John’s look shifted from exasperation to confusion. “The internet is not the same as regular interaction between people. How has this not come up in a conversation before?”

All right then. Sherlock mentally added masturbation to his list of topics not to mention in front of John. Before he could further explore the topic, someone cleared their throat at the front, and Sherlock was surprised to hear Mike being introduced. Ah. That explained John’s presence, then.

Mike’s presentation was surprisingly good. Sherlock was intrigued by the challenges involving frequency scaling in computer architecture, and mentally added it to his list of possible future research topics or side projects. He couldn’t help smiling a bit at Mike’s jokes, sometimes accidentally catching John’s eye when he half-turned towards him. John’s gaze felt like a salve on irritated skin, and before long, the morning session was over.

“Sherlock,” John started when they got up from their chairs. He hesitated a bit. “I... I think I should apologise for last night, for running off. I shouldn't have done that after you had just revealed something so personal about yourself.”

Sherlock was taken aback by John's kindness towards him, and couldn't help some of his surprise showing through in his voice. “Thank you,” he said. “I didn't mind. Your bewilderment is understandable.”

“I wish I had handled it better.”

“It’s alright. Most people of simpler minds than mine would be equally shocked by a revelation like that.”

John looked confused, as if he couldn't figure out whether that was an insult or not. “Right. I do think we should work on our proposal some more. The more we finish by the end of the conference, the easier it will be to submit on time.”

So, the proposal was on again. Sherlock felt relief coursing through his body, tugging the corners of his mouth upwards and drawing his eyes to John’s.

“Good point,” he said. “Go get your laptop, I'll arrange a place for us to work.”

“Lunch first?”

“I don't like to eat when I think. Slows me down.”

“I'm sorry, Sherlock, but ‘lesser minds than you’ actually need to eat every now and then.”

John had a point, although Sherlock couldn’t decide if he was offended by the mocking twinkle in John’s eyes. He wrinkled his nose. “Really, do you have to?”

John let out an exasperated laugh. “Now you're just messing with me. I'm quite sure you know how the digestive system works and that an average person requires–”

“John.” Sherlock bit his bottom lip to hide his smile. “Go get your laptop. I'll make sure you can eat something.”

“All right. I’ll see you in the lobby in a few minutes.”

When John came back with his laptop bag, Sherlock had carefully positioned himself leaning casually against the front desk, a car key dangling in his right hand. Seeing the corners of John's mouth curl upwards made something unusual happen inside his chest. Before Sherlock had figured out what made him feel a bit nervous all of a sudden, John spoke.

“Sherlock, is that a car key?”

Sherlock nodded towards the door. “Come on, let's go.” He walked alongside John, his thumb on the unlock button on the key. Sherlock turned a bit towards John, so he could observe the reaction on his face when he saw the–

“Sherlock!” John said, an incredulous tone in his voice, when a metallic blue convertible gave a modest double beep at the push of Sherlock's thumb. “Really?”

Sherlock smiled. “Travel budget only allowed for something boring, so I put in some extra. I read a study last week, said that a change of scenery is good for creativity.”

“You're unbelievable.” John shook his head, and Sherlock turned away to hide the delight that must have been clearly showing on his face. He still hadn't figured out why John’s compliments made him feel so strangely exhilarated. Other people's opinions of him had never had that effect before.

“There's a small coffee house near the lake that the hotel staff recommended as a good place for focused work. Do you want to drive?” Sherlock asked, holding out the key.

He had correctly predicted John to be a bit of a car person. As they drove on a quiet road with the top down, John's face lit up every time he made the engine roar, and Sherlock reveled in his joy. John shot him looks every now and then, still incredulous, shaking his head a bit, which Sherlock answered with tiny, playful variations on “your life must be so boring if this makes you so happy,” to which John invariably rolled his eyes and muttered things under his breath, inadequately hiding a goofy smile.

Sherlock directed them to the coffee house, where they had lunch – John made Sherlock order his own plate of chips after he had eaten half of John’s – and worked on the proposal for a few hours. After a cup of tea, John proposed to put their laptops back in the car and walk along the lakeshore for a while.

With the wind combing through his curls and ruffling John’s sand-coloured hair, Sherlock couldn’t remember feeling more relaxed in years.

“So,” John said, kicking at a rock, “when are you flying back to London?”

“Tomorrow evening. I've got some time reserved on the HPC the day after tomorrow–”

“HPC?” John interrupted. “Ah yeah, sorry. The high-performance computing, was it?”

“You’re starting to learn the language of my people. Well done, John,” Sherlock said, raising his eyebrow. John scoffed and jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow.

“So,” Sherlock continued, “I need to be back the day after tomorrow. This has been surprisingly interesting, but the computers are calling. Well, not literally. We haven’t gotten them to do that quite yet.”

“Bit homesick then?”

“Lab-sick maybe.” Sherlock chuckled.

“You get restless if you’re away from proofs and calculations for too long, don't you?”

Sherlock sort of half-nodded. It was mostly true, after all.

“You do seem like the type that’s married to his work,” John said, glancing at Sherlock from the corner of his eye.

“I guess you could call it that.”

John pursed his lips. “So, you don’t have a girlfriend then?”

“Girlfriend?” Sherlock was surprised John would even suppose that. “No, not really my area.”

John turned his head to catch Sherlock’s eye, a faint smile around his lips. “I see. Boyfriend?”

“No. Like you said, I consider myself married to my work.” Sherlock averted his eyes, hoping John would stop asking him about his love life, which was decidedly unimpressive so far, especially, he supposed, compared to what John’s must be.

“Right. So, what got you into academia then?” John asked.

Sherlock exhaled, relieved that John had dropped the subject. “It was more or less by accident. My mother was a professor in mathematics, so as a child, I used to tag along when I was bored at school.” Oddly enough, the words were out of his mouth before Sherlock realised. He didn't particularly like talking about his family, usually. But nothing about John was usual.

“Somehow, I can’t really imagine you as a kid.”

“No, I like to forget that time, too. Could never bear not knowing everything.”

John chuckled. “Yeah, I know the feeling. So you followed in your mum’s footsteps then?”

“Not intentionally. To be honest, I quite disliked math in school. It was all too easy. I taught myself some programming so I could just let the computer do my homework. After a while I encountered quantum computing, and then later I ended up being really interested in quantum physics for a bit, and then other parts of physics. I sort of liked messy things with explosions, so naturally I was quite intrigued when I first encountered subatomic particle physics.”

John nodded as if he understood exactly what Sherlock was talking about.

Sherlock continued: “But when they wouldn't let me do my term paper on the baryon asymmetry problem – it was ‘too ambitious’, they said, but obviously they just felt intimidated – I set the chemistry lab on fire, and the headmaster expelled me.”

“Wait a minute,” John said, “headmaster? When was this? How old were you?”

“I was fourteen.” From the corner of his eye, Sherlock saw John's jaw drop, which for some reason made him feel quite satisfied with himself.

John let out a surprised laugh. “Of course. Then what happened?”

“I was permanently banned from the lab, so I hacked into the school computer to revert the ban, which only made things worse. It was only through mummy’s influence that they let me graduate early and start at university when I was fifteen. I practically had my A-levels done by that time anyway. But she had to promise to keep an eye on me, so I was stuck with mathematics. Turned out not to be so bad after all.”

“Wow. You've done so much. I feel a bit, er–” John chuckled, “–normal, I guess, for having been in engineering all my life.”

Sherlock smiled. “Combat engineering in Afghanistan, setting up a graduate programme in a shattered city? Hardly call you normal.”

“Yeah, all right. Never consciously thought about it in that way. I was just looking for adventure, I suppose.” John shrugged.

“So why engineering for you?”

“I was never much into mathematics or chemistry or computer science. I like making things, working with my hands. I always got into trouble, taking apart my sister’s bike and building stuff from the parts. My mum especially got mad when she couldn’t find her kitchen stuff ‘cause I’d used it for a project.”

“You’ve got a sister, then?”

“Harry and me don’t get on, never have.” John looked up at Sherlock. “You?”

“Brother. He'd say he occupies a minor position at the ERC, but I daresay he has full control over the European research agendas and funding resources. For a short second, I contemplated asking him for advice when professor Lestrade told me to bring in money, but I wouldn't want to give Mycroft the satisfaction.”

John chuckled.

“Anyway, enough about my brother,” Sherlock continued. “We have a few weeks before the deadline. I'll put the unfinished version up somewhere we can both edit it. I really think we've got a good chance here.”

John smiled to himself. “Yeah. I'm quite sure of it.” He looked at his watch. “We should get back. People will talk.”

“What do you mean?”

John shook his head. “No, never mind.”

Sherlock frowned. He didn’t understand John’s comment. People talked all the time, after all. About the two of them being gone for the whole afternoon, presumably? Something started dawning on Sherlock. The fact that John associated their collective absence with people gossiping about them, did that mean he associated them with... Well, people tended to gossip about celebrities, but they could hardly be called that. Inexplicably, people also did tend to gossip about sex and relationships. Sherlock never quite understood why those things were generally more important to people than scientific discoveries or intellectual prowess, but John understood regular people significantly better than Sherlock did.

So if John implied that people would gossip about them, that had to have something to do with... Rumours about them being intimate, presumably? Ridiculous, of course. It would actually make a lot of sense that John had a history of one night stands at conferences – I mean, look at the man, he was bloody glorious – but he'd surely never consider someone like Sherlock.

But then why would John mind if people talked about him and Sherlock? Did John already have someone else in mind? Tonight was the conference dinner and social event, after all, the occasion where traditionally all of the conference flirtations would or would not turn from the abstract into the factual, the physical. Even though Sherlock was happy that he and John were getting along better again, he couldn't bear thinking about John in bed with someone else.

So he pushed the thought away and shrugged.

“Well, if it's Greg and Molly doing the talking, I've got a few theories about them as well.”

Chapter Text

This afternoon had really eased John’s mind on the collaboration with Sherlock. It had been good to get to know him a bit better. Clearly, Sherlock was a bit less socially dexterous than most people, but underneath it all, he meant well. In a sense, Sherlock’s antisocial streak actually made John feel needed in the collaboration. Though he’d never admit it out loud, he did feel a bit unworthy next to Sherlock's exceptional academic record. But his role in the collaboration was becoming clear to him now: Sherlock really did need him, in more ways than one.

John was good at dealing with people, at least when he wanted to. He genuinely enjoyed working with students and younger researchers, and he also predicted that he would be a lot better than Sherlock at writing rebuttals to negative reviews. John chuckled, imagining Sherlock’s surely self-righteous replies, complete with openly hostile comments about the reviewers’ relationships and sex lives, probably.

Also, even though Sherlock was excellent at coming up with ideas, John was obviously better at writing them down. Sherlock couldn't seem to make sensible assumptions about the grant officers and reviewers that would be reading the proposal, and he would add in way too much detail at the wrong points. John was more practiced at writing, and he supposed it also made sense because of Sherlock's sociopathy – he just seemed less able to take into account social conventions and other people's emotions than an average, more or less neurotypical person like John.

John still felt relieved about the lessened chance of him ending up in bed with Sherlock. He had tried flirting with him a few times this afternoon, just as a sort of test. Predictably, Sherlock hadn't picked up on that at all, and had even stated clearly, literally , that he considered himself married to his work, so that was that. John could even sustain and entertain his crush on Sherlock – which was enjoyable, after all – without any risk of unwanted consequences.

So when John entered the large hall where the conference buffet was held, and Sherlock waved at him and pointed to the chair to his side, he felt slightly exhilarated, but safe. During dinner, John allowed himself to marvel at the long lines of Sherlock’s body. He didn’t even bother pretending to be slightly annoyed with the pristine suit that was wrapped perfectly around Sherlock’s figure. And really, life turned out to be so much easier when one was permitted to appreciate Sherlock’s long, slender hands with short, neat nails at the end of his lanky fingers, that John couldn't help imagining in compromising actions and positions.

When dinner came to an end and John and Sherlock got up and bumped into each other awkwardly, John was not completely surprised that somehow that little bump felt like Sherlock knocked the air out of John’s lungs.

“Whoops. Sorry about that,” John said, slightly out of breath. “I’m usually better at keeping upright.”

“Judging from the amount of wine you had, your physical instability was to be expected,” Sherlock said, his voice steadier than John thought fair. They ambled over to the adjacent room, where a bar and small dance floor were set up.

“Well,” John said, “rather physically unstable than mentally, my old nan always used to say.”

“Unlike some people at our table.”

“God, yes. That was more than slightly awkward, wasn’t it.”

“I’d say,” John said, collapsing into a fit of giggles. “Shut up, people are staring.” It was more a suggestion to himself than to Sherlock, who was walking next to him silently, eyebrows raised.

“People are staring, because people–” Sherlock emphasised the ‘p’ sounds, “–apparently have nothing better to do.”

“Well, to be fair, your colleagues’ behaviour might have had something to do with that. Tell them to be a bit more discreet next time.”

Sherlock scoffed. “They can do what they like. Even though Greg sometimes seems to feel responsible for me, that sentiment is not at all returned.”

“Rightly so,” John declared. “He and Molly are sensible, single adults.” He punctuated the sentence with a flourish of his hand.

“I just hope she won’t come running to me for comfort when Greg and his wife get back together after all.”

“What, d’you think they will?” John tried to focus on Sherlock’s face, but the wine didn’t make it much easier. Sherlock seemed to look quite worried or crestfallen, but that must surely be a mistake. More likely, he was just tired.

“One can only hope for the best. Well, they are only the first of many unlucky couplings to spring forth from an open bar night such as this one.”

“Oh yeah? Who else, then? Who's going to–” John lowered his voice, “–who else is going to get laid tonight?” He’d been a bit curious about the limits of Sherlock’s seemingly endless deduction skills.

“‘Get laid’? God, John, your vocabulary is preposterous.”

John snorted. “Really? Do you ever hear yourself speak?”

Sherlock tilted his head as if he'd conceded a point. At least he seemed to have perked up a bit. “Anyway. Predictions about those who will mostly likely ‘have relations’–” he raised an eyebrow at John, who muttered under his breath “now you're just shitting with me”, “–the two in the corner over there, the American and his neighbour, the two Postdocs from Imperial who were sitting at our table... Hm, at least two out of those three, might be all three if they finish that bottle of spirits they are so unskillfully hiding under the table. The woman in the blue shirt over there would like to, but I'm afraid she won't...” Scanning the room, Sherlock's head turned to John and his eyes narrowed.

Suddenly, John's stomach was in his throat and he could feel a blush rising up from under his shirt.

“Hm. I'd say you have someone on your mind.” A sly smile spread on Sherlock's face. “Care to elaborate?”

John coughed and looked away, trying to avoid Sherlock’s stare. “Never mind. Just drop it.”

Sherlock's smile fell. “Is it the woman in blue? I'm quite sure you could, but I'd thought your standards would be considerably higher.”

“No, not her. Um, Sherlock...” John was feeling increasingly uncomfortable.

“To make sure I am considering the complete set of possible subjects of your interest, may I correctly assume you ‘swing both ways’, as you would probably call it?”

John choked at the unexpectedness of Sherlock’s question, but pulled himself together quickly. “Well, yeah, I am bisexual, as I would probably call it.” He glared at Sherlock. “And right now I'm going to get us a couple of pints.”

Sherlock grinned, as if he'd just encountered a wonderful puzzle. “Sure. I need to visit the lavatory, but I'll meet you back here in a few minutes.”

Shaking his head, John ambled over to the bar. This conversation was getting more and more dangerous, and John was sure that his head spinning wasn't only the wine. He chuckled to himself. His life had certainly become a lot more interesting since Sherlock had turned up and started asking completely inappropriate questions.

Standing at the bar, lost in thought, it took him a few seconds to notice that the woman next to him had spilled a full glass of red wine over the sleeve of his shirt.

“Oh! I'm so sorry!” she exclaimed, as she took a small handkerchief out of the pocket of her blue shirt. “Let me try to clean that up for you.”

John snatched a towel from the bar. “No, that's alright. I'll just dry this...”

“No, you need to put some salt on it or it'll stain,” she insisted. “Come to my room for a second and I'll...”

“No, it's really not necessary.” John shook his head vehemently.

The woman raised her eyebrows and held out her hand. “Let me at least properly apologise. Mary. Morstan. I'm sorry for ruining your shirt. Can I buy you a drink?”

John shook her hand absentmindedly. “Er, hello. John Watson. I'll run off to the loo and run some water over this.”

He marched towards the men's room in the lobby, which he expected to be a lot less busy than the ones directly adjacent to the great hall. He pulled the door open and expected to stride into a mostly empty men's room, but instead strode directly into Sherlock, who had just pushed the door open from the other side and was no doubt expecting to stride back to the great hall.

John's nose bumped into Sherlock's neck, and John chuckled, and tried – not too earnestly, it must be said – to extricate himself from the tangle of Sherlock's long limbs, and tilted his face upwards in an attempt to say “second time tonight we've bumped into each other”, only to half-accidentally brush his mouth and cheek against the jaw of the most handsome man at the conference, who smelled of soap and wine and tea and grit and England and faintly of gunpowder.

John grabbed onto Sherlock’s upper arms, maybe a bit more eagerly than actually needed to avoid tripping over, and drew back a bit, quite out of breath all of a sudden. If he wasn’t mistaken, he heard an unsteady sigh at the back of Sherlock’s throat, but that was probably more the shock than anything else.

John felt like he should probably move away, but his eyes wouldn’t leave Sherlock’s face, as if he had a sudden urge to study Sherlock’s exquisite features closer up. His eyes were a remarkable shade of light blue, bordering on green, with hints of other bright colours, almost translucent. They reminded John of opal.

John slowly moved his thumbs on Sherlock’s biceps, marveling at the feel of muscle tissue, which felt stronger than he would have guessed from Sherlock’s slender figure. He felt Sherlock’s warm hands on his lower arms in response, and almost drew in for a kiss, when Sherlock suddenly spoke.

“John, your sleeve. What happened?”

John broke the gaze and let out a shaky laugh, pulling back a bit. “Oh. Right. Someone spilled wine over me. I was going to rinse it out.”

“With water?” Sherlock raised his eyebrows. “You should put this in an alkaline solution. Come with me.”

When John’s mind had caught up to the situation, they were already waiting for the elevator. John had never before felt so conscious of a body standing to his right, less than an inch away. He moved the fingers of his right hand a bit, brushing against Sherlock's, just to feel if he was real. His touch was answered with a lithe move of Sherlock's fingers. John felt giddy.

When the elevator arrived and expelled a bunch of people, John drew his hand back and he and Sherlock stepped into the elevator. With a tinge of disappointment, John realised they would not be riding the elevator alone. No, that was good, because he felt nervous and confused and he needed some time to gather his thoughts.

They were really just going to put his shirt in some soap, right? After all, he had just determined that his crush on Sherlock was surely unrequited. It seemed like they had almost kissed, but that must have been a misunderstanding. With anyone else, this – first the flirting and then this awkward bumping into one another and then the invite to come upstairs – would have been a clear overture for sex, but he'd never slept with a sociopath. Not that he knew of, anyway.

Sherlock pushed the button for the 8th floor, and the doors closed. John swallowed. If they'd been alone in the elevator, he surely – and before he could even finish that thought, he felt Sherlock's fingers against his hand, in a way that would surely be invisible for the other people in the elevator, Sherlock’s thumb sliding against his wrist. John half turned around and – God, Sherlock’s face so close to his was intoxicating. Sherlock's eyes on him almost felt like sex.

When they exited the elevator at Sherlock's floor, they turned into an empty hallway, and John didn't dare look Sherlock in the eye anymore. It was strange, not being sure what Sherlock thought. John chided himself for not reading up on sociopathy, and more specifically, on sex and sociopathy, but then realised that there was no way he could have expected this to happen. Everything about this was quite unusual.

Sherlock unlocked the door and held it open for John. John entered, not meeting Sherlock’s eyes, and raised his eyebrows at the spectacularly messy room. It was not at all what John would have expected from a man who looked so immaculate all the time. Books were strewn all around, all surfaces were covered by stacks of papers, and the mirror was full of formulas and Greek letters, probably for lack of a whiteboard. The room looked like Sherlock had lived there for years. For all its mess, the room smelled quite like Sherlock, and John almost couldn't restrain himself, wanting to bury his nose in Sherlock's neck again, to feel Sherlock’s skin on his.

Fuck it all. Fuck professional collaboration and sociopathy and strange group dynamics. John already hadn’t been able to get enough of looking at Sherlock's face and hearing his voice. He would be happy to do that day and night. Right now, he would be ready to go all-in.

But Sherlock wouldn't, surely. Sherlock didn’t like people. Sherlock was married to his work.

John slowly turned around to Sherlock, his nerves not having subsided. Sherlock fidgeted a bit with the door lock and his key card.

Sherlock cleared his throat. “That moment there, erm...” He turned around to John, suddenly looking timid. “It was nice.” He bit his lip.

John looked up at him. “Yeah? I mean, I…” He hesitated. Was he really going to do this? If Sherlock thought it was nice, that did mean something, didn’t it?

He inhaled deeply. All right. Let’s risk it. “I wanted to kiss you. But I wasn't sure if you–”

“I did.”

The next moments were unclear and somehow unavoidable , like movement lit only by a stroboscope – Sherlock’s gaze was intense now, rather than timid, and – they were standing close to each other – who had moved? Had they both? – John felt a bit dizzy – and he tilted his head up to Sherlock – or maybe Sherlock tilted his head down – and their mouths met, hot and heavy, and time became fluid again as John tasted Sherlock’s lips, the softness laced with a hint of wine and something that was unmistakably Sherlock’s own.

John shivered as Sherlock pressed up against him, kissing him and pushing him against the wall, the sensations of their lips touching growing exponentially more intense with each additional point of contact. Sherlock stroked his thumb along John’s jaw and slowly weaved his hands into John’s hair. Pressed chest against chest, John could feel Sherlock’s breathing grow heavier.

Without thinking, John opened his lips against Sherlock’s, exploring the soft heat of Sherlock’s mouth with his tongue. Sherlock responded with a low moan that made John’s blood rush towards his groin. Sherlock’s tongue joined his and caressed John’s lips, and John felt a soft groan escape from his throat. This was so much slower and better and more bloody sensual than he had imagined. With a half-smile, John realised that even this snogging session alone could provide him with plenty of wanking inspiration for the next few months at least.

John placed his hand on the small of Sherlock’s back, pressing them against each other, his other hand sliding upwards to caress the curl in the nape of Sherlock’s neck. When he pressed his hips against Sherlock’s, he registered an unmistakable hardness. And as he felt Sherlock’s hands move to his chest, starting to unbutton his shirt, John realised that at least this was well-known territory.

Chapter Text

“That moment there–” Sherlock closed the door to his hotel room and turned around to look at John. “It was– I wasn’t sure what was–” Oh, bloody hell, form a coherent sentence, you idiot. “It was nice.” What? That was the best he could come up with? Well, at least he was talking.

He needed to buy himself some time.

For the past few minutes, Sherlock had tried to kickstart his brain into action, but he kept getting distracted. His mind felt unusually sharp, as if it were drowned in caffeine or cocaine, but it seemed to be wasting all of its extra processing power – and then some – on thoughts of John’s hands and John’s mouth and John’s eyes and John’s skin and all the things his body wanted to do with John’s body, things his body had seldom before considered doing with anyone else’s body. It felt a bit like he had stepped into a completely new paradigm and unlocked a whole new set of puzzles.

Sherlock was quite sure that he and John had almost kissed, and John’s eyes had betrayed his arousal, and Sherlock had honestly wanted to put John's shirt in soapy water, and John had made it clear that he wanted nothing else than just a working relationship, and John had touched his hand in the elevator, and Sherlock had felt John’s pulse quicken on his wrist, and there was no way for Sherlock to put all of these lemmas together in a coherent theorem when his brain was so preoccupied with the physical aspect of the situation.

John looked up, meeting Sherlock’s eye. “Yeah? I mean, I– I wanted to kiss you.”

Oh. Oh. A hypothesis: the wine stain had actually been a clever pick-up trick from John. John was the type of person who was able to pick someone up in a bar, or at Tesco's, or obviously at a conference. And judging from his smooth technique, plus the fact that Sherlock almost hadn’t been able to work this out, it wasn’t far-fetched to believe that John was experienced with one night stands. Quite unlike Sherlock.

John continued: “But I wasn't sure if you…” His right hand was fidgeting, his breath was high in his chest. John was nervous and it made Sherlock feel insecure, because maybe John was having second thoughts, but Sherlock didn’t want to wreck this, he didn’t want to throw this away, the fact that this glorious man had come up to his room, the fact that he was not only there for the stupid wine stain but also for Sherlock.

“I did,” Sherlock interrupted him, and before his mind could trick him into rational thought again, he closed the distance, pressing John against the wall and finally, finally kissing him, and his mind went still.

John’s lips were warm, and softer than he'd imagined.

For a fraction of a second, John seemed too surprised to move, but then he tilted his head ever so slightly, tentatively moving his lips. A little explosion of joy went off behind Sherlock’s breastbone when he felt John’s mouth respond to his, and he couldn’t help a sigh escaping his lips when John’s rough fingers softly touched his cheek.

Sherlock let his hands reach out for John’s hips, maybe more for stability than anything else. John opened his lips, allowing Sherlock's bottom lip to slide between them, and he ran his tongue along the soft flesh of Sherlock's lip. Sherlock returned the favour, catching John's bottom lip between his own, ever so softly nibbling. A low rumble sounded in the back of John’s throat in return, and John’s breath quickened against Sherlock’s mouth. Even though his lips were completely caught up in the kiss, Sherlock almost smiled: he was doing that, he was causing this man’s breath to speed up.

John pressed his hands to Sherlock’s back, pulling Sherlock further towards him. Sherlock’s breath caught and he released John’s lips for a moment, exhaling hard in an almost-moan.

When John moved his hands to Sherlock’s neck, Sherlock remembered that they had come here to soak John's shirt in soap. He didn’t want John to think that he was the type of person who didn’t follow through on his promises. Important in a good working relationship: the belief that the other person is reliable and trustworthy.

Sherlock lingered for a few seconds, tasting John's mouth with his tongue, and then drew back a little, allowing space for his hands to reach the buttons of John's shirt. Fumbling – his hands annoyingly less agile than usual, but still functional enough – he unbuttoned the shirt, drawing it out of John's jeans. The t-shirt underneath seemed undamaged by the wine. John reciprocated by letting his hands wander over Sherlock's arse, pulling Sherlock towards him. Sherlock gasped at the sensation of John's erection hard against his hip.

John moved his mouth to Sherlock’s jaw, kissing lightly, breathing out hard against Sherlock’s neck. “God, you're bloody delicious,” he whispered.

Sherlock could only whimper, the words blown out of him by John's soft breath against his ear. John's hands kneaded his buttocks, and Sherlock pushed his hips harder against John.

Wait, the shirt. He had to do the shirt. John kept distracting him.

Sherlock pulled the shirt off of John's upper arms, ignoring the disappointment of John's hands leaving his arse, and withdrew from the embrace. John's whimper made him smile.

"John. I promised you to soak the shirt."

“Really, you don’t have to… The shirt isn’t…” John sounded a bit out of breath.

“Give me two minutes.”

Sherlock pulled the shirt off of John’s arms and strode to the bathroom, leaving John behind in the hallway, presumably too distracted to follow. He ran the tap and pulled a little bottle out of the side pocket of his carry-on. The wine washed out easily enough, relieving Sherlock of his feeling of unease, the anxiety of a task unfinished. He put the shirt up to dry on a clothes hanger. Touching his tongue to the inside of his lips, Sherlock could still taste a trace of John, and it made him ache to put his mouth on John’s again.

When he walked out of the bathroom, he frowned at the sight of his little hallway being empty. Surely John hadn't left? Had he done something wrong when he left John alone to rinse out the shirt?

Turning towards the bedroom, his mouth fell open when he saw John lying on his bed, naked except for a pair of snugly fitting black boxer briefs, flipping through one of Sherlock's textbooks that he'd left on his bedside table.

"Hey," John said, smiling awkwardly. "Thought I'd help move things along a bit. If that’s all right. And brush up a bit on some theory. This book is fascinating, as far as I understand it in my current state of mind. But you’ll lend it to me, yeah?"

Sherlock blinked. So not only had John not left or been turned off by his slightly obsessive shirt cleaning project, he had even undressed himself and gotten into his bed? Was this real?

John chuckled and sat up, closing the book – Quine’s Philosophy of Logic, Sherlock noted with approval – and held his hand out to Sherlock. "Come here."

Sherlock walked over to the bed and sat down, rubbing the back of his neck. He would never admit that he felt overcome with nerves, especially to someone he'd have to deal with professionally. Surely his insecurity would not have a positive influence on his academic image. He resolved to at least pretend to know exactly what he was doing, to be brave and courageous and assertive.

So he turned towards John and took John's face in his hands, pulling him closer into a heated kiss. His heady feeling was just as much due to John's soft groan as to the fact that he was apparently successfully playing the part.

Not releasing Sherlock’s mouth, John shuffled a bit closer to Sherlock, putting one of his legs over Sherlock's lap and the other around his back, enveloping Sherlock in a tangle of limbs that made him feel quite overdressed, until the feeling of John's hard cock against his hip completely distracted him from anything else. He moaned into John's mouth and felt John's lips curve into a smile.

"How is it that you're still wearing your shoes and I'm down to just my pants?"

Despite the distractions, Sherlock still had the presence of mind to scoff. "Come on, John, don't play innocent. Unless someone else just came into the room to take your clothes off while you weren’t paying attention."

John laughed out loud and pushed his head into the crook of Sherlock's neck, softly biting the skin. "Why don't you stop answering rhetorical questions and let me undress you, you git."

His resolve to act more assertive completely forgotten, Sherlock toed off his shoes and socks while John unbuttoned his shirt. After taking off Sherlock's shirt and undershirt, John pushed him back onto the bed, urging a gasp out of Sherlock's mouth when John’s hands grazed his nipples. Their kisses grew more urgent and Sherlock's hands drifted to John's buttocks, John's hands meanwhile grasping Sherlock's curls.

Before Sherlock could gather up the courage to undress himself further, John's hands were already inside his trousers and Sherlock felt John's fingers on his erection, only separated by the thin silk of his boxers.

"Can I take these off?" John breathed in Sherlock's ear.

It took Sherlock a few seconds to let John's question get through the overwhelming assault of input. "Please," he said, his voice shaking more than he’d expected. "Hang on, let me."

He shucked his trousers off, his pants getting caught in them and shifting down a fair bit. When he was about to hoist them up, John stopped him, his fingers slipping a bit under the waistband at the sides of his hips.

"Is this okay?" John asked.

Sherlock drew back a little, looking into John's eyes. There was a little voice nagging him in the back of his mind, this man is only using you for your body , but at this point Sherlock wasn’t willing to back out, he was willing to risk it all, willing to take the small chance of John really liking him. So he drew John into a kiss, tasting the inside of his mouth, their tongues slipping against each other, the question almost forgotten when John was the one who drew back.

“I'm serious. I really want to know if you're okay with this. I don't want to do anything you don't want to.”

Sherlock smiled, the adrenaline and endorphins finally getting the better of him. "There's nothing I'd rather be doing right now," he said softly, his voice low, while he nipped at John's neck.

John sighed, a low rumble in his throat. "God, your voice, Sherlock." He shifted his hands to Sherlock’s buttocks, softly squeezing them as he returned his mouth to Sherlock's. He pressed his erection against Sherlock's, the fabric of both their pants the only border still between them, and Sherlock couldn’t still a gasp.

"You'll have to let me know what it is that you like to do," John murmured in between kisses.

"I'm good, don't stop," Sherlock said, his breath catching. "Too many words. Can I...?" The words stuck in his throat while he moved his hand tentatively to John's front, brushing his fingers over the hardness in John's pants.

"Please," John groaned, pressing his hips into Sherlock's hand. Sherlock stroked John, and, suddenly annoyed by the soft cotton over John's hardness, slipped his hands into John's pants to feel the hot flesh of his erection. Sherlock's fingertips brushed his coarse hair, a curious contrast with the softness of John’s skin and the hardness of his cock. The sound of John's low moan at Sherlock's touch was almost enough to send Sherlock over the edge.

"Off with this," John snapped, quickly shucking off his own pants before hesitating slightly at Sherlock's. Their eyes locked, Sherlock nodded, and John did away with his pants as well before again settling tightly against him, their cocks rubbing against each other. The fevered heat between them felt hard and soft at the same time – another contradiction that Sherlock vaguely registered.

Sherlock slipped his hand between their bodies, touching both their erections, softly stroking them both. The sounds John made reflected what Sherlock felt – they were both breathing unsteadily, and Sherlock realized that for both of them, their orgasms might not be too far off. Briefly, Sherlock imagined all the activities they could have performed if they'd had better stamina, and a slight feeling of disappointment passed before him, coupled with a growing arousal at the images that flashed before him: tasting John’s cock with his mouth, John pressing a finger into him, John entering him with his cock.

"I'm afraid I’m not going to last much longer," he breathed against John’s neck. Their hands had found each other now, stroking their erections in tandem, sometimes their own, or each other's, or both, in a delicious tangle of cocks and hands and fingers, slick with sweat and precum.

John softly chuckled between laboured breaths. "Good, because neither am I, to be honest. Christ, you're fucking delicious, did you know that? Only the fact that I don't want you to stop touching me keeps me from tasting you all over."

Sherlock couldn’t get words together to formulate a reply, but hoped that his soft groans conveyed the appropriate approval.

"Not the talkative type, then?" John panted in Sherlock's ear, a smile audible in his voice. "If I’d had the patience, I'd kiss your neck, and your nipples, and your sides, and the insides of your thighs, and then I'd taste your bloody gorgeous cock, and I'd spend a whole night teasing you, alternating between your cock and your bollocks and working you open with my tongue until I could bloody well fuck you so hard you’d come like you’ve never come before," and even before John was completely finished with his declaration, Sherlock was coming hard, seeing stars and biting John's neck, and that seemed to send John over the edge, their semen mixing between their stomachs, their fingers tangled over the point where their cocks touched.

When their muscles stilled, they lay sweaty and exhausted next to each other, the sides of their bodies touching, Sherlock's mind still spinning. Experimentally, he tried to move his thoughts around to see if he was able to click them together better now – no, no luck, still.

But there was a new voice in the back of his mind: you’re missing something, you know people never choose you for you , this isn’t real. Sure, Sherlock was superior in IQ and observational skills, but that usually made people avoid him rather than be drawn to him. He still wasn't sure why, but he had long accepted this as a fact. It was an unwelcome thought and it made him sad, because he wanted nothing more than to be John’s chosen one, the one that John would choose to share a bed with, not just once, but every night.

Would it be possible? Would he be able to say or do something that would make John stay?

Sherlock turned towards John and took a deep breath. “John.” John, he wanted to say, feeling your eyes on mine makes my lungs expand to triple their size. John, your voice fills something inside me. John, your skin is softer than water. But in his head, it all sounded like awful poetry that teenagers wrote to their first lovers, so he ended up settling for a meek “You are not dull.” True, at least. No contest.

John chuckled and Sherlock averted his eyes, feeling like he had said the wrong thing.

“This was really nice,” John said softly, turning towards Sherlock. Their eyes locked, and for a second, Sherlock could imagine what people felt when they complained that he could look completely through them. He lowered his eyes and inhaled, maybe about to say something, but John cut him off with a soft, simple kiss.

“Don’t worry about the rest,” John said.

Sherlock did his best. He moved his hand on top of John’s, laced their fingers together and closed his eyes, only for a moment, but his mind seemed to get away from him.

Half-asleep, Sherlock felt the mattress dip, then lift. Still half-asleep, he heard the soft beat of John’s feet on the smooth carpet. The rustle of fabric, the faint clink of a belt buckle, and then his mind jolted fully awake.

Shit.

He did his best to keep his breathing slow and soft, but the undeniable feeling of disquiet forced his eyelids slightly ajar.

With the softest sound, the room grew marginally brighter.

And it seemed to take ages before the inevitable happened: the light disappeared and the door quietly clicked closed. Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut.

Chapter Text

The next morning, John woke up smiling, and it took him a few seconds to realise why.

Ah. Right. John chuckled and bit his lip, details from last night coming back to him. It had been quite amazing. Going at it like two bloody teenagers.

John didn't regret anything. Well, all right, maybe it hadn’t been the wisest decision. The sex hadn’t exactly done much to lessen John’s crush, and his throat tightened up a bit at the realisation that it wouldn’t grow into anything more. But then again, it had been spectacular enough on its own merits, even without meaning more than the physical. It was just another little adventure like he’d had so many times before at conferences.

Afterwards, when they had laid next to each other, panting and catching their breaths, Sherlock’s eyes had glazed over. He had obviously been thinking about something else already. Since it was clearly just a physical thing, John had left the room when he was sure Sherlock was asleep. He would surely have been a burden to Sherlock otherwise. He didn't even want to imagine accidentally curling up against Sherlock. How awkward would that have been when they woke up?

So John had slept alone. The space next to him in bed did feel achingly empty, but it was all right. It was hardly the first time that he’d left someone’s bed in the dead of night.

When he turned around to his side, a dull ache shot through the side of his head. Bloody hell, a hangover after the conference social event. Classic conference behaviour. His mouth was dry and tasted like bollocks. Well, not literally – John couldn’t stop a chuckle escaping his throat – even though he wouldn’t have minded tasting more of Sherlock’s skin, to explore him with his lips and tongue.

Well, now he felt especially sorry that he hadn’t woken up next to Sherlock.

Right, toothbrush, shower. John wouldn't be the only one looking like arse the morning after the conference party, but he really didn't want to stand out. Left to their own devices, the corners of his mouth curled up as he absent-mindedly straightened his sheets.

When he was all cleaned up and about to go downstairs for breakfast, his phone buzzed in his pocket.

Meet me in the lobby in five minutes. -SH

John’s heart skipped a beat. Before he could even start typing a reply, a second text followed.

I have your shirt. -SH

How did you get my number? John replied.

Nicked your phone from your pocket when you weren't looking. I put it back after copying your number. -SH

John smiled, despite himself.

Do you have any respect for boundaries? At all?

It was only fair after you’d nicked mine yesterday. -SH

Good point.

Wait a second, you didn’t use my phone to send any texts, did you?

Of course not. -SH

Couldn’t help reading some, though. You really should call your sister back. -SH

Yeah, thanks, mum. Anyway, on my way.

John exited the elevator and walked towards the lobby, suddenly nervous. Sherlock was standing in a corner, looking out of the window, in a surprisingly unwrinkled suit. John wondered to himself how Sherlock did it, looking so pristine all the time. Well, not all the time. Images from last night entered John’s mind, Sherlock looking utterly ravished, completely bereft of all control and restraint and propriety, his mouth open and his face flushed and his hands clenching the sheets.

Of course, John’s blush had just reached its apex when Sherlock turned around.

“John.” Sherlock’s face looked as neutral and detached as ever.

John did his best to straighten his face, in spite of Sherlock’s piercing stare.

“Sherlock. You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. We need to talk.” Sherlock paused for a second. “About our proposal.”

“–about last night,” John finished simultaneously. “Oh.”

“Also–” Sherlock held up a neatly folded shirt, “–I believe this is yours.”

John took the shirt from Sherlock’s hands, their fingers brushing. Suddenly, the spacious lobby seemed cramped and claustrophobic. “Do you want to sit outside for a minute?” he proposed.

“All right.”

As they exited the hotel, the sun seemed too bright, somehow intrusive, as if it illuminated and laid out all of John’s feelings and hesitations. John couldn’t help his worries bubbling up when they walked side by side in silence. Why did Sherlock want to talk? Had they crossed a line? Had Sherlock not wanted to do this after all? Suddenly, John had visions of breakups from the past, of the detached faces of people not caring anymore, of anger and sadness and grief. He did his best to keep his own face as neutral as Sherlock’s, as they sat down on a bench a few yards away from the hotel entrance.

“John…” Sherlock started.

“I really enjoyed myself last night,” John interrupted. “You did too, right?” He couldn’t keep his worry from tainting his tone, making his voice sound rough and higher than usual.

“That should have been obvious. I just wanted to confirm that we will still be working together.”

“Oh.” Had Sherlock been worried about that? “Yeah, of course.” John hadn’t even thought for a second about ending their working relationship.

Sherlock relaxed visibly. “All right. That’s good. I’m glad.”

John suddenly realised that Sherlock might be uncertain of John’s intentions about last night. They hadn’t talked about it at all – or about anything besides sex, really. It wasn’t inconceivable that Sherlock felt anxious that John might be expecting more from him than he could offer.

“Hey,” John said, looking up at Sherlock, “don’t worry, alright? It was just sex. I don’t expect anything more from you. We’re okay. It’s all fine.”

Sherlock seemed to relax further, his shoulders sagging slightly. He looked away. “I wasn’t worried.”

“Yes, you were.” John couldn’t help but chuckle when he saw the corner of Sherlock’s mouth curve upwards in a lopsided smile.

“Breakfast?” Sherlock asked.

“Starving.”

On their way into the hotel restaurant, John felt a tap on his shoulder. When he turned around, a blonde woman greeted him, a cheerful smile on her face.

“Hi! John, right?”

John vaguely remembered her face. He was sure she was also at the conference. Had they spoken? He had met so many new people these past days. And to be honest, his mind had been a bit preoccupied with Sherlock.

Well, best to play the innocent card, then.

“Hi, er…” He cocked his head to the side, smiling. “Sorry. I’m so bad with names.” To his side, he could see Sherlock rolling his eyes. What? He was just being polite.

“Mary? We met last night? For about five seconds, when I ruined your shirt?”

“Ah, right.” John nodded. The woman in blue from last night. Now in a green shirt. “Sorry I stormed off. Shirt’s clean, though.” He held up the neatly folded bundle of fabric that Sherlock had handed him earlier.

“Looks like you got that dry-cleaned. Quick service. I’m impressed.”

John hesitated. “Yeah, something like that. Have you met…” He turned around, only to see Sherlock’s back disappear towards the elevator. “Oh.”

“Whoops.” She made a face. “Think we scared away your friend. First the shirt, now your friend… Ruin wherever I go!” She chuckled, raising her shoulders. “I’d say I’ll buy you breakfast to make it up, but unfortunately it’s included, so I can’t even do that.”

“You’ll sit with me, though, right? Since my friend has disappeared.” Only after he’d said the word ‘friend’, he realised that he hadn’t really thought of Sherlock has a friend before. Collaborator, colleague, person of interest, crush, secret love interest, one night stand… Sure, those were accurate. Friend? Yeah, maybe. Probably.

Mary’s hand on his arm roused him from his thoughts. “Of course. Lord knows I could eat something. Are you alright?” She looked at him quizzically.

John shook his head, trying to clear his mind of Sherlock. “Sorry, not completely awake yet. Open bar does that for me nowadays. I'm not twenty anymore, unfortunately.”

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll get in line–” she pointed to the crowd near the coffee machine, “–if you could you put some fruit and toast on a plate for me. Race you? First one to finish gets to choose the table.”

John chuckled. “For such an impressive prize, I’ll surely do my best.”

While Mary weaved across the room to the coffee machine, John smiled to himself. She was nice. Normal, also. Not rude or sullen, not unsociable… Uncomplicated. And funny.

He beat Mary to the table by a long stretch. The coffee machine had been busy indeed.

“Didn’t know if you wanted milk or sugar, so I got you one with everything and one with nothing.” Mary balanced three cups on the table.

“Ah, thanks. I’ll take the one with nothing. Here’s your breakfast.” John pushed the plate over to Mary.

“Thanks. Cheers.” She tapped her cup to John’s. “To a good day. I’ll try not to ruin anything else.”

After breakfast, John went up to his room to brush his teeth, humming in delight after the easy, casual conversation he’d had with Mary. On his way back to the conference rooms, he saw Sherlock sitting in one of the rooms and sidled up to him.

“Hey, there you are,” John said. “You just disappeared there.”

Sherlock barely looked at him. “Seemed like you didn’t need me anymore.”

“Well, I was just making conversation. I was about to introduce the two of you when you just stormed off.”

Sherlock clenched his lips. “Wasn’t much in the mood for talking.”

“For some reason I feel like I should apologise, but it’s you who just ran off.”

“That’s all right, though,” Sherlock said. “Wouldn’t have wanted to disturb your undoubtedly fascinating conversation.” His mouth was smiling, but his eyes didn’t follow suit. The result was mildly disconcerting.

John frowned. His conversation with Mary, and the fact that she was so completely and utterly normal, made him even more aware of Sherlock’s eccentricity. “Come on, Sherlock. You’re acting childish.”

“No, I'm sure her research is fascinating. Have you picked out project acronyms yet?”

“Oh, so that’s what this is about?” John shook his head. “You’re jealous because I’m talking to other researchers? Sherlock. Come on. I told you, I’m committed to our proposal. I’m still convinced it’s going to be a brilliant project. Mary agrees.”

Sherlock looked up at John, frowning. “You told her about our proposal?”

“Yes, of course. She even had some good ideas to add. She’s also in London, did you know that? UCL.”

“Great.” Sherlock raised his eyebrows and looked away.

John sighed. “Sherlock. Look at me.”

He refused to continue until Sherlock reluctantly raised his eyes to John’s, his jaw tight and a deep crease between his eyebrows. The man obviously felt uneasy. It was interesting, John realised, that despite being a sociopath, Sherlock still seemed susceptible to emotions such as jealousy, at least in professional situations.

“Sherlock, I’m not having doubts about our proposal at all, which I can clearly remember stating out loud to you only this morning. You have to trust me when I say these things.”

Sherlock muttered something under his breath, but the tense expression seemed to be leaving his face.

“And you’ll have to accept,” John continued, “that I’ll still talk to other researchers. But I won’t seek any academic collaboration until we receive the funding decision on our proposal, all right?”

Sherlock nodded. “All right. I’m just not–” he faltered, “–well, I’m just not that used to collaborating with other researchers. You’ll have to remember I don’t have a lot of experience with that. With professional collaborations.”

“The proposal is marvellous. Don’t worry about that.” John considered, and then found he couldn’t resist leaning in to whisper in Sherlock’s ear. “And, just to be clear, last night was also marvellous.” He chuckled softly. “Although not the most professional thing, probably.”

Sherlock blinked hard. “Well. We probably shouldn’t do it again, then.”

John leaned back, sorry to move away from the smell of Sherlock’s skin. “You’re right. Yeah. That’s clear, then.”

He turned to face the speaker, who was just starting up her presentation. John smiled to himself. It had been a slightly more confusing morning than he’d anticipated. But at least now they had cleared all misunderstandings out of the way.

Chapter Text

When he arrived in London, Sherlock took a taxi straight to Barts. His flight had been bearable only for the distraction of his colleagues, with whom he was doing his best to be sociable. At work, he found his simulations in bad shape. Surely Anderson had done something wrong, restarted a server or something. Instead of getting to work on fixing things, Sherlock decided to call it a day, suddenly tired. In the rush of a conference, he tended to forget to sleep, or if he did remember, he often couldn’t get his head to quiet down enough to nod off.

But when he got home, he still couldn’t manage to fall asleep. His mind kept feeding him lines that he wanted to tell John. Highly annoying. This was why he preferred to work alone: much easier. This collaboration was getting to him. He tried to distract himself by working out the prime factors of some random six-digit numbers. This was now his distraction method of choice – by lack of deductions, anyway – after he had unintentionally learned a section of the Fibonacci sequence and the powers of two and three by heart, up to a high enough point.

But every now and then, his mind slipped, and he found himself frowning at the thoughts that crept in. It was quite unnecessary to keep thinking about what life would be like once the proposal got accepted and his co-PI would join him in London. It was even more unnecessary to imagine John’s opinion of everything: the lab, or of the way Sherlock dressed, or his handwriting on the whiteboard in his office, or how he played the violin.

After laying awake for an hour, he got up. Might as well get something done, then. He unpacked his bag, revised his sock and shirt indexes, cleaned some food out of the fridge that had gone spoiled while he was away, and then took his laptop to his chair near the fireplace. Folding his feet under him, he booted the laptop and opened his email. He scrolled through a couple of questions about his research, deleted a review request – he never did care to spend time on anyone else’s research – and felt his heart jump at an email from John. 

Hi Sherlock,

Hope you got home well. I’m still at the airport, waiting for my flight. Would you believe they delayed it because of a suspected bombing on Kabul airport? Things are much better already since the war ended, but the situation is hardly normal. Really need to get out of there -- the lack of decent fish & chips shops here is only the least of my problems. Please do your best on the proposal.

Cheers,
John

PS if you want to discuss the proposal, Skype me @ drwatson.

The email was sent an hour and a half ago. Maybe John would still be online. Sherlock started up Skype and added John’s Skype ID. His contact request was accepted before he had even had the chance to walk to the kitchen to make tea. The familiar Skype ringtone sounded, and he bounced back to the laptop, balancing it on the arm of his chair and accepting the call.

John’s face appeared, a bit blurry and pixelated, but it worked.

“Hello.” Sherlock heard his voice echo back through the speakers.

“Hi!” John fidgeted with something off-screen. “Hang on a sec, let me just put in my headphones. There, that’s better.”

“Still delayed, then?” Sherlock winced. “Sorry, asking obvious questions again.”

John chuckled. “Can’t blame you, it must be late there. How was your flight?”

“Tolerable.”

“Good to hear. Mine is still delayed indefinitely. The airport is apparently still not cleared.”

Sherlock frowned. “How safe is it there, generally?”

“Not too bad. Could be worse. It was much worse. Chances of being shot at have diminished greatly, but are still significantly higher than in London.”

“Better is good.” Sherlock did his best not to feel too worried about John, but he couldn’t suppress a strong feeling of unease.

John squinted at the screen. “Sherlock, the connection isn’t perfect, but… Are you wearing a sheet?”

Sherlock shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep.”

John shook his head, smiling. Sherlock thought he could see a blush creep up on John’s cheeks, but it might have just as well been his webcam’s automatic colour temperature adjusting to something.

“So you… Yeah. Never mind. How are things in London nowadays?” John asked.

“Yeah, good,” Sherlock answered absentmindedly, meanwhile alt-tabbing to his file system to navigate to the folder with the half-finished grant proposal. He wanted to offer John a distraction from his obvious distress about the safety of his destination.

“Sherlock?” John’s face, now in a small window on the bottom right of Sherlock’s screen, looked confused. “If you don’t have time to talk, I’d prefer if you just said so.”

“No, hang on. I was just copying the proposal to my shared drive. Thought you might like to work on it, since you’re waiting anyway.”

“Oh. Sure.”

Sherlock pressed a few keys. “There you go. I sent you the login information.”

“Yeah, thanks.” John pursed his lips. “I looked you up on the internet just now, while I was waiting.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Found your website, The Deductions of Science.”

Nice. Sherlock felt some pride well up in his chest. John surely had to be impressed with all the data and theories he couldn’t really accommodate in publications or elsewhere. “What did you think?” he asked, unable to prevent a hint of eagerness from entering his voice.

John scoffed. “You approach any branch of science as if it were logic.”

“Obviously. When it comes down to it, everything is just applied logic. Medicine, for example, is just applied chemistry, which is just applied physics, which is applied mathematics, which is applied logic.”

“You can’t just infinitely abstract from practical details, Sherlock.”

Sherlock shrugged. “Seems to be working fine for me.”

“But practical details are what make things more interesting.”

“They’re what make things impractical.”

“But aren't you afraid that you'll ever get bored with logic?” John was smiling, but his eyes were creased in disbelief.

Sherlock made a casual gesture. “I’ve never not gotten bored.”

“Do you think you ever will? Stay interested in something, I mean?”

Interesting question. Sherlock had never really thought about it. He steepled his hands under his chin and considered. “I suppose in theory I could. It’s just never come up.” Sherlock’s phone chimed. A quick look confirmed his hypothesis. “John, your flight was just rescheduled. Forty-five minutes from now, gate D12.”

John chuckled. “Sherlock, did you set some sort of alert for my flight on your phone?”

“Something like that. Go catch your flight. I trust you’ve downloaded the proposal?”

“I will, right away. I’ll work on it on the plane. We’ll talk more when I get back.”

Sherlock nodded. “Have a safe flight, John.”

“Thanks. Good night.”

John’s pixelated face disappeared with a soft ‘ding’. Sherlock couldn’t shake the feeling of unease at John’s safety. Hours later, he woke up, still in his chair, his laptop dropped to the floor and an uncomfortable crook in his neck. Apparently he had been tired after all.

Sherlock couldn’t help checking his email a bit compulsively over the next few hours, until finally a text message from John popped up.

Home safe! Flight was fine. Need sleep now, I’ll Skype you tmrw. When r u free?

Despite the horrible syntax in John’s text message, Sherlock smiled, and started typing a reply.

Glad to hear. I miss y

He backspaced, frowning.

Glad to hear. I was worried ab

No, this was silly.

Glad to hear. I’ll be home all day. Skype me whenever. -SH

Good enough. He pressed ‘send’ and then found himself typing:

Good night. Hope you sle

What was he thinking? John wouldn’t need this sort of sentimentalism from him. He backspaced a bit:

Good night. I can’t seem to

He backspaced the whole message. Never mind. It was silly to say these things to John. He dropped his phone to the chair and ambled over to the window to pick up his violin. Behind him, the message chime sounded.

What?

What do you mean? -SH

I could see you were typing.

The message was followed a few seconds later by another one.

I may live outside the developed world, but we do have some modern technology here, you know.

Shit. Sherlock settled for a simple

Just wanted to say good night. -SH

It would have to do. Sherlock threw his phone across the room in a sudden fit of frustration. It landed on the couch with a soft thud, bouncing to the floor next to the coffee table.

John didn’t Skype the next day, nor the day after. The shared document with the outline of the proposal sat untouched. Sherlock refreshed BBC World and CNN every ten minutes or so, but he’d read that kidnappings of foreigners were never reported online, so the lack of news from Kabul did little to soothe his concerns. He went to his office a few times, starting up double the usual number of simulations and torturing Anderson with a wide range of insults, both work-related and not.

At night, he sat in his office until late, reading scientific journals while playing his violin and drinking whisky. Mrs Hudson, the building manager of the computer science building, brought in biscuits and tea, looking worried. Sherlock wasn’t sure why she could always seem to work out when he was feeling bad.

Late at night on the third day, Sherlock awoke on the couch in his flat, dressed in his robe, to a text message chime.

John. Thank goodness.

Sorry for not calling. Power outage. Just woke up to lights turning back on! I’ll resume work on the proposal today. Have some things written down on paper. Bit stone age, but it works.

A power outage. Bloody hell. Sherlock swung his feet to the ground and sat back, rubbing his face. He felt quite unstable and his head was heavy on his neck. Must have been that last whisky… How many had that been? There was an empty bottle on the kitchen table and another half-empty one on his desk. He exhaled.

I imagine your quill must have gotten dry. You could have etched some things in stone, had you run out of paper. -SH

Har har. What time is it there anyway?

Middle of the night. You’re 3h30 ahead of me, so you can work it out. Skype? -SH

Oh, fuck. Sorry if I woke u. Go to sleep, I’ll Skype you tmrw.

Can’t sleep anymore anyway. Let’s Skype now. -SH

After a beat, he added:

The research proposal is calling your name. Can’t you hear it? “John! John!” -SH

He chuckled to himself. John would surely find that funny.

All right. Let me just make breakfast, will Skype u in 15mins.

Sherlock checked that his Skype was open and online, and got up to make himself some breakfast as well. He imagined John alongside him in the kitchen, a sleepy mess of hair and robe and heavy eyes, putting the kettle on, scrambling some eggs in a hot pan, dropping two slices of bread in a toaster. Sherlock realised that he wouldn’t mind sharing a kitchen with John. It would be nice, even.

Right when he put his freshly made breakfast on the kitchen table, his laptop started ringing. He ambled over to the couch, accepted the call, and then carried his laptop over to the kitchen table, a bit unsteadily.

“John!” He couldn’t do anything to keep the enthusiasm out of his voice.

John smiled. “Good to see you, Sherlock.” The warmth and kindness in John’s voice tugged at Sherlock’s breastbone, a bit like a perfect proof of soundness and completeness.

“I was worried about you,” Sherlock said. Fuck. The usual filter was completely gone and he even slurred a bit. He bit his lip and frowned.

“Sherlock, are you drunk?”

“Might be a little. I was bored.”

John shook his head, smiling. “I’m really sorry for waking you. Wait, are you… Is that scrambled egg on toast? Are you actually eating?” He chuckled. “Is the great Sherlock Holmes actually eating like a normal person?”

“You were talking about breakfast. Sounded nice.”

John raised his hands, a brown mug in one, some sort of pastry in the other. “It is. I do miss English breakfast though.”

“I can make you some when you come over.”

John laughed, averting his eyes. “Well, we never got to have breakfast together after… Well, you know.”

“After sex. You can say it, you know. Or is that not proper conversation material?” Sherlock raised his hands in an exaggerated shrug. “Like masturbation? Whoops, shouldn’t mention the m-word in front of the respectable Doctor Watson.” Sherlock snorted to himself. He should binge on whisky more often, it made him a lot funnier than cocaine did.

John almost choked on his tea. Sherlock couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment or shock or laughter or surprise, or some sort of mixture of all of them.

“Well, yeah,” John said. “Might as well call the spade a spade. Remember, it’s early morning for me. I’m completely sober and still waking up.”

“Early morning? Isn’t that usually the time for it?”

“What, masturbation?” John made an obvious attempt to look stern, but the corners of his mouth curling upwards, accompanied by a blush, gave him away. “I doubt you’ll remember any of this later, so fuck it. Yes. I do prefer to masturbate in the morning, and I haven’t yet today. Like you said, potential collaborators should know the worst about each other.”

Sherlock’s mind supplied helpful images of John touching himself, stroking his torso downwards to his groin, pushing his hand along his thick cock, letting his head fall back in a gasp. He softly laughed to himself. “I’d hardly call it the worst, John. Well, unless your other negative traits are weeing rainbows and serving custard to old ladies.”

John snorted. “How about you, then?”

Sherlock considered. It had been a while. “Not as often as I used to. Can’t find much joy in it lately.” He hadn’t been able to focus on it for a while. Not that he had missed it much, though.

“Really? That’s a shame.”

“Well, it’s fine.” Sherlock shrugged. “Body is just a vessel anyway.”

“An enjoyable vessel.” John’s tongue darted out of his mouth, wetting his lips. “You can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy yourself when we, you know. When we had sex.”

“I did. But with masturbation… When I was younger, it was fine, but I’m bored with it now.”

John inhaled sharply. “Would you…” He pursed his lips and tilted his head. “Would you like it if I told you what to do?”

Chapter Text

“Early morning? Isn’t that usually the time for it?” Sherlock seemed very amused by his own quite intoxicated sense of humour.

John felt his cheeks heat up, but couldn’t help smiling all the same. He felt elated by the presence of Sherlock after a few days of forced silence, even if this presence was only virtual, on a computer screen. “I doubt you’ll remember any of this later, so fuck it. Yes. I do prefer to masturbate in the morning, and I haven’t yet today. Like you said, potential collaborators should know the worst about each other.”

Sherlock licked his lips and smiled, a soft gasp escaping from his lips. “I’d hardly call it the worst, John. Well, unless your other negative traits are weeing rainbows and serving custard to old ladies.”

John laughed. “How about you, then?”

He was curious about Sherlock’s sexuality, and Sherlock seemed intoxicated enough not to mind indelicate questions. John had pictured Sherlock in sexual acts and positions often enough these past few days, while taking himself in hand, and he wondered how much of those would be realistic.

“Not as often as I used to,” Sherlock answered with a shrug. “Can’t find much joy in it lately.”

“Really? That’s a shame.”

“Well, it’s fine. Body is just a vessel anyway.” Sherlock sounded bored.

“An enjoyable vessel.” John was reminded of Sherlock’s obvious pleasure, when they’d been in bed together at the conference. “You can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy yourself when we had sex.”

Sherlock frowned. “I did. Obviously. But with masturbation… When I was younger, it was fine, but I’m bored with it now.”

An idea popped into John’s mind. A completely filthy, wonderful idea. “Would you like it if I told you what to do?”

Sherlock’s eyes shot up to meet John’s, his mouth dropping slightly open. John felt a bit nervous. This was probably out of line. They had agreed that the conference was a one time thing, after all.

John opened his mouth and inhaled, about to say he hadn’t meant what he’d said, when Sherlock interrupted his thoughts.

“Well,” Sherlock said slowly, narrowing his eyes, “it does sound like an interesting experiment.” He cocked his head as if in thought. “It’s worth a try, I suppose.”

Yes. Yes. “All right.” John’s cock twitched at the thought of what he was going to tell Sherlock to do, ideas already floating through his mind. It wasn’t really sex if he’d only tell Sherlock how to masturbate, was it?

“Tell me, John.” Sherlock suddenly sounded eager, hungry almost.

“Hang on. You need to let me know immediately if you don’t feel comfortable with something. Any things you don’t want me to say? Things you don’t want to do?”

The corners of Sherlock’s mouth curled upwards. “No,” he growled. “Tell me to do anything. Everything.” He looked into the camera with a predatory smile.

John smiled. “Why don’t you use that rude mouth of yours for a good cause, then. I’d like to see you wet your lips with your tongue.”

Sherlock sucked his bottom lip in and released it, leaving it glistening, and then traced the contour of his upper lip with his tongue, stopping halfway to caress his cupid’s bow with the tip of his tongue.

God, if this man was going to be this thorough with every instruction John gave him, this was going to get long. Long and incredibly hot.

“Well done,” John said. “Beautiful. Now, why don’t you wet the index finger of your right hand.”

Sherlock didn’t exactly lick his finger, he caressed it with his mouth, stroking his wet lips along it, playing around it with his tongue, dipping it inside his mouth, meanwhile not breaking eye contact with the camera. John gasped before he could stop himself. His cock was by now more than slightly interested in the proceedings, but in thought, he urged it down, wanting to concentrate only on this glorious man right before him. Well, virtually right before him, anyway.

“Your robe,” he said. “Are you wearing anything underneath?”

“Nothing at all,” Sherlock purred.

“Trace that finger downwards over your neck. Slip your right hand underneath your robe. Find your nipple.”

“Right or left, John?” Sherlock bit his lip in a cocky smile, already moving his hand downwards over his flushed skin.

John smiled, rolling his eyes. “Cheeky bastard, aren’t you. Left.”

Sherlock’s hand disappeared under his robe, and through the thin fabric, John could see his finger circling his nipple. Sherlock exhaled hard, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back.

“Yes, that’s it. Wonderful. Not so boring a vessel then, is it?”

“I’d tell you to shut up if I didn’t want you to go on so badly, John.” Sherlock’s eyes were still closed.

“Alright then. You’ve still got your left hand free, don’t you? Why don’t you use it to stroke your neck a bit, play with your hair? That’s what I’d do if I were there with you.”

Not relenting his right hand’s continuing touch under his robe, Sherlock moved his left hand to his hair, stroking through it from forehead to the nape of his neck, letting the curls bounce back while he moved along them. He moved his head in little circles when he had reached his neck.

John let Sherlock massage his own neck for a bit, enjoying the sight before him. “Move down a bit. Shoulder. Collarbone.”

Sherlock’s long fingers stroked along his skin. John ached to be that hand, to be there with him. No. No good. He pushed the thought away. This was already pushing the boundaries of their professional relationship. They weren’t touching each other, John wasn’t even touching himself. He couldn’t even see Sherlock’s cock. This was all right. This didn’t mean anything.

“It’s time to lose the robe, Sherlock.”

Sherlock opened his eyes, looking straight at John, who managed to hold his gaze without blinking for a few seconds. Without speaking, Sherlock drew his right hand back from under his robe, inhaling heavily, and pushed the robe off his shoulders. The retreating silk revealed stark lines of bone and muscle under pale, smooth skin. Small nipples stood out sharply on Sherlock’s torso. The sight made John’s heart clench, pushing the breath out of his lungs.

“Extraordinary,” he said.

“Do you know you do that out loud, John?”

John chuckled. How was this man still so cocky, with all the distractions? “Alright, smarty pants. Why don’t you look down and tell me how aroused you are?”

“I don’t have to look down to tell you that, John.”

“Sherlock,” John said sternly, raising his eyebrows.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and then looked down after all. “Quite aroused, John.” His gaze stayed downward.

“More detail,” John demanded.

“My–” Sherlock looked up at John again, suddenly a desperate look in his half-lidded eyes. “My cock is aching to be touched, John. It’s so hard and full and flushed.”

“Good.”

“Can I?” Sherlock asked.

“Not yet.”

For all his cockiness, Sherlock seemed to be completely in John’s power now, and John wanted to relish that, draw it out. Not to mention give Sherlock the best wank of his life.

“I think your right nipple might want some attention. Why don’t you lick your right index finger again and treat it just like you did your left.”

Even before John had finished speaking, Sherlock was spiraling his tongue around his finger and moved it to his right nipple, fondling it, circling it with the pad of his finger.

“Take it between your thumb and index finger and pinch, softly. Tell me how it feels,” John said.

Sherlock only moaned softly, eyes closed.

“Use your words, Sherlock.”

“So good,” Sherlock murmured.

“Alright, still a bit less verbose than I’d imagined, but good. Now, I think you deserve some reprieve. Left hand, stroke your chest, slowly downward. Slowly.”

Sherlock opened his eyes, his mouth still open. He was breathing heavily now. He moved his left hand downward, out of the line of sight of the camera.

“Don’t touch your cock just yet.”

“John,” Sherlock pleaded.

“Tangle your hand in your pubic hair a bit.”

Sherlock’s arm moved, his hand still out of sight, but the desperate look in his eyes betrayed that he was indeed keeping to John’s instructions.

“Now, alright, move your hand to the base of your cock. Slowly stroke upwards. And tell me what you’re doing and feeling.”

Sherlock closed his eyes. “God, John, I’m so hard. It feels– It feels like there’s a coil winding up inside me. It’s so good. Almost electrical.”

John smiled fondly, a bit relieved that Sherlock couldn’t see the affectionate look on his face. He had to do his best to keep his voice steady and detached. “Keep stroking yourself. Slowly.”

“Thank you for– For letting me touch myself,” Sherlock said, his voice unsteady.

“Why don’t you lick the palm of your other hand and wrap it around your cock.”

“Oh, John,” Sherlock gasped. He opened his eyes and did as instructed, licking his hand thoroughly while looking directly at the camera, which made John gasp involuntarily. Sherlock moved his hand down and let it join his other hand. He dropped his head back with a breathy moan that made John blush.

“Good. Stroke yourself with your right hand, now. Use your other hand to stroke your bollocks, softly.”

The movement of Sherlock’s shoulders and arms clearly betrayed Sherlock’s hands working at his groin simultaneously. The motion of his muscles under his skin could almost be a work of art if it hadn’t been so lewd – so unambiguously, unapologetically indecent.

“God, Sherlock, you’re so–” John wanted to say beautiful , delicious , exquisite , “–you’re doing so well.”

“I agree,” Sherlock huffed, one of the corners of his mouth rising in an absent-minded half-smile, but obviously too preoccupied to form a complete facial expression that conveyed anything but pure arousal.

“You’ve got your hand wrapped around your cock?”

“Obviously.”

“Twist it a bit while you move up and down. Move your index finger over the head of your cock when you reach the tip.”

Sherlock only groaned in response.

“You’re doing so well. How does it feel?”

“Can I move faster?” Sherlock asked, no breathed , his shoulders trembling with self-control.

“If you want.” John couldn’t take his eyes away from this glorious creature who was pleasuring himself so openly before him. “Tell me.”

“My fingers on my cock… They’re a bit slippery, it feels so good to slick over the head of my cock. God, John, this is so good, it feels so hot and hard.”

John licked his lips involuntarily. “Good. Go on.”

Sherlock’s mouth fell open. He was breathing heavily now. “I don’t think I’ve got that much longer.”

“One more thing I want to try. Lift up one of your knees and place your foot on the seat of your chair.” He watched as Sherlock’s knee appeared on the screen. “Now,” John said, “lick your index finger. Wet it well.”

Sherlock mewled softly in disapproval when he removed one of his hands from his groin, bringing his fingers to his lips, greedily taking three fingers into his mouth and drawing them out, lapping at them with his tongue.

John realised he was also breathing heavily. “Alright,” he said. “Now move your hand between your legs, further back now, and stroke the skin behind your bollocks. That’s good,” he said, as he saw Sherlock’s hand disappear downward again, his shoulder moving further forward as he brought his fingers all the way down.

“Now, stroke between your cheeks, find your arsehole. Softly glide your finger over and around it.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows shot up, his mouth falling open again. His other hand was still working at his cock, obvious from the movement of his arm. The sight of Sherlock’s wet mouth and the movement of his arm made John’s cock throb, feeling like he could come at the slightest touch.

“There you go,” John said. He swallowed hard, trying to keep his own arousal under control. “Now, keep stroking your arsehole. Push your finger inside a bit if you want.”

“Oh, John. It’s too much,” Sherlock panted.

“Go slow. Slow and steady.”

“Ah. There. That’s–” Sherlock’s breath caught, “–that’s so good. Oh, John, this is amazing.”

“You’re doing so well, Sherlock. You’re–” this time he couldn’t catch himself, “–you’re so wonderful, you’re looking so bloody hot. I can’t wait to get myself off after this.”

And with a loud moan, Sherlock came, the tension convulsing through his body, his face forming a desperate “Oh!”, his shoulders tensing and relaxing, his head falling forward.

John could only watch, suddenly speechless at the sight of this man losing control. He realised that when they had slept together, they had been so wrapped up in their embrace that he hadn’t had the opportunity to study Sherlock’s face while he came.

It was glorious. Bliss.

“Oh. That was…” Sherlock sounded out of breath. “That was brilliant.” His face and chest were still flushed, his lips parted, his eyes apparently unfocused.

John had to restrain himself from making a teasing comment about the rarity of praise from Sherlock. It didn’t seem like the time to mock him, in this vulnerable state.

“Thanks,” he said instead. “I enjoyed myself too.” He let his eyes drift over the computer screen, learning the details of Sherlock’s face, trying to let his gaze reach through the pixels to study him, in a hopeless attempt to grasp the inner workings of this incomprehensible man.

Sherlock raised his head to look John in the eye – or as close at one gets through a Skype connection. “Didn’t you… Didn’t you want to?”

“Well. I would. I do. But I can manage myself.”

Sherlock’s face betrayed a brief moment of confusion, followed by a blank expression. “Alright,” he said. “Good.”

“Good,” John echoed, lowering his eyes. He had had a tiny bit of hope that Sherlock would have wanted to watch him get off, too. But no. Bodies were just vessels. No need to get sentimental, it wasn’t a rejection, it was only a confirmation of their working relationship. Which was good. It was good.

He swallowed. “It would do us good to resume work on the proposal.” A sudden need to remind them – or himself, mostly – that working is what they did, what they were meant to do anyway, not tending to each other’s vessels.

“Ah. Yes.” There was a quiver in Sherlock’s voice. He sounded tired.

John remembered the state Sherlock had been in when they had started talking, only half an hour ago, his clear intoxication. “I think you should get some sleep first.”

“You’re right,” Sherlock said. “Thanks for this, it was good. Let’s talk more soon.”

Sherlock ended the call before John could reply.

Suddenly, John felt his body deflate, like it took him all his strength to sit up straight. His earlier desire forgotten, his breath caught in his throat, his eyes feeling heavy. He didn’t understand why Sherlock’s abrupt goodbye affected him. Of course Sherlock didn’t care and it shouldn’t have been a surprise. This was more or less like what they had done after they had slept together at the conference, right? It was just sex, it was nice, and that’s all it was.

He left his half-finished pastry and tea on his desk, walked uselessly into the kitchen and turned around again, not sure what he was planning to do there. After standing in his small hallway for an undetermined amount of time, he drifted to his bedroom and slumped down on his unmade bed.

He turned his back to the room and curled up, embracing his own body as if he could shelter himself from the world.

That afternoon, John managed to drag himself to his office. A printout of the half-finished proposal was sitting next to him on his desk, but he was doodling on a piece of paper instead, seeing if he could think of a new way to keep his old four-wheeler robot from toppling over every time it encountered anything larger than a pebble or a clump of grass. No luck so far.

Stability was a strange thing. It seemed so easy, but the smallest things could throw it off and then it would be helpless. A robot was as paradoxical as a turtle: strong and sturdy and resistant to most kinds of attacks, but flip it on its back and it’s lost.

While sketching some probably useless designs, the door to his office opened. John looked up to see a woman in a black dress entering his office, a black headscarf covering part of her hair.

“Hello, John.” A British accent and a slightly mocking tone in her voice. She closed the door behind her.

John sat back, keeping his smile blank but polite. “Hello.” A student? No, he surely would have remembered. He didn’t often run into such elegantly dressed women. Let alone elegantly dressed women that actually came up and talked to him. “Can I help you?”

“You have a meeting in five minutes,” she said. “I’m to take you.”

“No, I don’t believe I do.” John frowned. “And you are?”

She hesitated. “Anthea.”

“Right.” That hardly provided any more information. “Who do I have this meeting with, then?”

“My boss prefers for various reasons to stay anonymous.”

“Well, so do I, but since the surveillance drones I doubt that would work for anyone anymore.”

If she found his remark funny, she didn’t show it.

John pursed his lips. “I’m sorry, but as a child I always learned not to go with strangers, and in Afghanistan, that advice extends to adults.” He wasn’t stupid, after all. As a foreign national, the risk of being kidnapped was a continued nuisance in this country.

Anthea fished something out of her purse and flashed it to John. A crimson rectangle. “I understand you’re not easily threatened, so let me assure you that my nationality is British.” It looked real enough – or it would have to be a very complicated conspiracy or forgery. Most kidnappers were far simpler than that.

John pursed his lips, tilting his head sideways. He couldn’t help but be intrigued. He crossed his arms and looked at his watch. “Well, if your boss–” inadvertently, a sarcastic tone entered his voice, “–can get this meeting over in fifteen minutes, I’ll still be on time for my afternoon class.”

Anthea raised her eyebrows. “That depends on your cooperation.”

“Well, doesn’t that sound serious. You know what, I could do with a little distraction, so go on then.”

Anthea nodded her head towards the door and turned around. John sighed, grabbed his keys and followed her through the brightly lit halls of the university building into the parking garage. She pointed John to a corner, where a silhouette of a man stood out.

“You know,” John said, wandering towards the corner more casually than he felt, “you could have just sent me an email. Much more efficient.”

As he came closer, the silhouette turned into a man in a three piece suit, leaning on an umbrella. He couldn’t have looked more English if he tried.

The man spoke. “As I’m sure Anthea must have explained, I prefer not to disclose my identity in public.” His accent was obviously upper class, his tone much more nonchalant than warranted for the situation.

“What is that identity, then?” John asked. He was quite intrigued by this little performance. Was this some kind of joke? Or something serious, the threat of fights flaring up again and the embassy pulling all Brits out of the country?

The man paused and inhaled deeply. “I understand you’ve developed a liking to Sherlock Holmes.”

John frowned. “Sherlock Holmes? Well, not particularly, to be honest.” He had the feeling he was missing something. What in heaven’s name was the significance of Sherlock in all this?

“Well.” The man raised an eyebrow. “You’ve known each other for a few days and already you’re writing a proposal together.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t mean I think of him as any more than a colleague,” John said sharply.

The man’s piercing stare seemed to slice right through John’s brain and pick apart the slight lie he just told. John averted his eyes and swallowed.

“You seem to be spending an awful lot of time together. Might we expect a happy announcement by the end of the week?”

John’s eyes shot back up to the man’s face. What was he on about?

Oh, bollocks. That had probably betrayed his interest. “We’re not a couple,” he tried. That was definitely true, after all.

The man opposite him only raised his eyebrows.

John cleared his throat. “Look… Whoever you are. I don’t think there’s anything going on between myself and Sherlock Holmes, and even if there were, we’re working together, so anything more than that is obviously out of the question.”

The man smiled coldly. “That did not seem to stop you in the past.” He pulled a small notebook out of his pocket and leafed through it, nodding almost imperceptibly when he had apparently found what he was looking for. “I know about your past relationship with James Sholto, doctor Watson.” He looked back up to John.

A sensation of icy panic crept up in John’s throat. “Wh– How did–” Alright, no use denying after that disaster of a stammer. John exhaled and raised his eyes to the ceiling before looking directly at the man. “That was all kept under wraps. How did you find out?”

“That’s not important.”

God, this man had no business looking this smug, John thought. “Yes, it really is.”

The man ambled closer, twirling his umbrella. “I know that professor Sholto was forced to resign from his position at this university as a direct result of your relations with him.” He stopped a few feet from John, boring his gaze into John’s eyes. “I want you to know that I will do anything in my power to keep that from happening to Sherlock Holmes.”

John pursed his lips, breaking the gaze. His earlier feeling of light amusement had been completely drawn out of him. “Yeah, I’m sure it won’t. Are we done?”

“You tell me, doctor Watson.”

“Look, I’m going to ask you one last time and then I’m going to walk off. Who are you?”

“An interested party.” For crying out loud, what was with the vague answers? Alright, he’d play along one more time.

“Interested in what?” John asked.

“In Sherlock Holmes, obviously. Don’t pretend to be dim, doctor Watson.” The man smiled disdainfully, as if watching a toddler who was doing something adorably wrong.

John felt his jaw tense. He was beginning to develop a clear urge to punch this man in the face. Before he could say something snide, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

Call me directly after you finish teaching your class. It’s important. -SH

Well, then. The man he was apparently not allowed to have a relationship with, a request that was apparently important enough – to some people, at least – to be dragged out of his office and into the parking garage for.

Yet, he had apparently needed the reminder. The small clock at the top of his phone screen told him he only had five minutes until his class.

“Good. Right. If you’ve got nothing else to do but threaten me, I’m off.” He turned around and started walking away.

“It’s not a threat, doctor Watson,” the man called after him. “It’s merely… A promise.”

John huffed. A threatening promise was still a threat, after all. He wouldn’t let himself be intimidated.

Chapter Text

It hadn’t truly been masturbation.

Well, in a sense it had, but it had been unusually spectacular masturbation, nothing like he had ever done before.

Sherlock flopped down on the couch, putting his laptop next to him. He sighed. His cigarette stash was all depleted and he’d run out of nicotine patches – it had been a stressful few days, after all – and he really, really didn’t feel like going out. But now he felt restless and out of control. He turned sideways and lay down on the couch, his bare feet leaning on one of the armrests, and folded his hands into a sharp pyramid under his chin.

It had been a strange morning. A strange Skype call, mostly. It had been wonderful, nothing like he’d done before, but it felt unfinished. He really, really wanted to see John lose control again, see his tense body get tenser and then decompress, collapse into full relief, unload the tension like he had done that one night at the conference.

It wasn’t even just the sexual aspect that Sherlock craved – though that was undeniably one of the appealing factors – but the fraction of vulnerability in John’s eyes, the bliss on his face, the moment of beatitude that would smooth out the creases around his eyes, those signs of a life in distress and dejection. He wanted, no needed to study John’s face. He wanted to know what John thought and felt at that exact moment.

Sherlock kept surprising himself with this unprovoked affection. The unusual urge to satisfy this man, to please him.

And that was not part of their deal. They were colleagues. Collaborators. John had obviously felt awkward after helping Sherlock masturbate, and rightly so, Sherlock supposed. So now, having slept a while and woken up with a mild headache, he wanted to compensate for losing control. They had to work on the proposal. They needed to.

Sherlock fished his phone from the pocket of his dressing gown and composed a text to John.

Call me directly after you finish teaching your class. It’s important. -SH

Now, he could only wait. Suddenly restless, he swung his legs back to the floor, shooting up and stepping over the coffee table. He paced around the flat, wishing he had his violin here to distract himself, but he had left it in his office. He made a mental note to badger Mycroft into giving him one of his spares. After all, Mycroft rarely played anymore, if the calluses on his fingers were anything to go by.

Eat something, maybe? He wasn’t hungry. Sherlock took his laptop to the kitchen table, drumming his fingers on the surface while it booted up. He opened his email, then slammed the laptop shut before he could see if there were any new messages.  A book, then? Start with that stack of conference proceedings in the corner?

No. He would get a headstart on the proposal, like he promised himself he would. He wouldn’t be deterred by this lingering sense of insecurity and self-doubt. He opened his laptop again, ignoring his email, and opened the document.

A few hours later, Sherlock’s phone rang. His heart jumped a bit when he saw John’s name on the screen. He took a deep breath and picked up.

“John.”

“Sherlock.” John’s tone was curt, oddly businesslike. No, Sherlock corrected himself, not oddly, but sensibly businesslike. “You asked me to call?”

“We need to add an image of the robot to the proposal.”

“Yes, all right.” John paused, as if he was expecting Sherlock to say something more.

“So…” Sherlock drew out the vowel, not completely sure what he was supposed to say. “You’ll send me an image?”

“Is this what you disturbed me for?” John sounded harsh, harsher than usual. Angry, even. Sherlock’s head kicked into gear.

“Er… Yes?” Sherlock asked, meanwhile working through his head to figure out what he had done wrong. Or was it something outside of his own power? Nerves? Threats? “It is important.”

The facts: John was angry. He had sounded irritated already when he picked up the phone. Hypothesis: the anger was probably not because of Sherlock.

“Sherlock, I’m tired and my head hurts and this is not the moment. I woke up way too early, I just had an incomprehensible meeting, my students were restless…”

A-ha. That was it. “And you didn’t get off this morning,” Sherlock interrupted.

John grumbled. “Jesus, Sherlock, what does that have to do with anything?”

God, it was baffling, how little this man understood of himself. “It has to do with everything,” Sherlock said. ”Of course you’re tense. I– I may be able to help. After this morning, I feel like I should reciprocate.”

John huffed, or scoffed, Sherlock wasn’t sure. “Please don’t. Please don’t offer to do something you obviously don’t want.”

“No, but I do.” Had he not been clear, then?

“I’m sorry, but you feel like you should? No, really, Sherlock, that’s a great pick-up line.” Sherlock cringed at John’s angry and sarcastic tone.

“John, you’re being silly, you’re letting the problem get in the way of the solution. Do let me try, at least. I’m quite sure I can fix this. It is only the reasonable thing to do.”

“Reasonable. Right.” John exhaled audibly. “Great. I’ll think about it. Let me go home first, because if I’m doing this, there’s no way I’m doing it in my office.”

“Good,” Sherlock said. “Skype me when you get home.” He hung up, afraid that he’d say something desperate and too affectionate, too sentimental.

An hour later, Sherlock’s laptop made the familiar ‘incoming call’ sound. He was already sitting at the kitchen table with his laptop, though his attention had kept drifting from the proposal to the forethought of helping John get off. He was quite sure John would accept his offer. He had seemed so ready, after all, this morning. Sherlock almost felt guilty for declining John’s offer then.

John’s face appeared on Sherlock’s screen at the push of a button.

“All right, look,” John started. He already sounded calmer than an hour ago. “I’ve thought about this. I appreciate your offer. It’s about colleagues helping each other out, isn’t it?”

“Well.” Sherlock considered. Sure, if that was the best they could do. “Yes.”

“All right then. Let’s do it.”

“Good.”

“Fine.”

They were both silent for a moment, looking at each other, not sure who should start.

“Try to relax,” Sherlock said to break the silence. It was something he had read in an article about masturbation that he had encountered completely accidentally just a few minutes ago – no, really, quite by accident.

John grumbled. “Easier said than done. I thought that was what we were trying to accomplish here.”

“Right, right.” Sherlock thought for a second. “Do you want to do it the same way as before, but the other way around?”

“Actually, you know what?” John cocked his head. “If I could watch you… That would be quite wonderful.”

Sherlock’s cock twitched at the anticipation. “Good. Tell me what to do, then.”

“Move your laptop further back, or move away from the laptop. Either way, you need more distance between yourself and the laptop so I can see–” John hesitated, “–so I can see your cock as well as your face.”

Sherlock smiled. “Alright. Let’s see what I can do.” He sprang up from his chair, swiftly moved his laptop to the edge of the kitchen table facing the living room, and tilted the screen so the webcam was pointing towards the chairs near the fireplace. Then, he turned the closest chair around so it was fully in view of the webcam. “Something like this?”

“Go sit in that chair and we’ll see how it fits,” John said.

Sherlock sat down in the chair. He could perfectly see John on the computer screen, even though it was a bit farther away. “Don’t you want to move the camera back a bit too?” He was having a hard time sitting still.

John pursed his lips in consideration. “Alright. Why not.” The image on the screen shifted a bit towards a corner of the room, revealing a small dresser topped with a few stacks of books and papers. John scooted his chair back and sat down in it. “Can you see me alright?”

“Yes. Excellent.”

“How about you tell me what you’re expecting of me,” John said.

Sherlock blinked rapidly. This was more difficult than last time, when he only had to follow instructions. “Er, well, if…” Thoughts tumbled over each other in his head. There were so many things he would like John to do. He had to structure them. “Considering the fact that we are not physically in the same location, and considering our earlier experiences…” He was buying himself time, rearranging his thoughts. Ah, there was an idea: “I wouldn’t mind if you’d touch yourself the way you usually like to do, and tell me to do the same.”

John smiled. “I can do that.” He sat back in his chair. “Okay. Take off your robe.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Right away?” This was going faster than he thought it would.

“Do it.” John’s authoritative tone did something in Sherlock’s brain that made him take off his robe before his mind caught up. “Good,” he continued, smiling. “That’s good. I usually start by watching something visually stimulating, but I’ve got you for that now, don’t I?” He pulled up one of the corners of his mouth in a half-smile.

Sherlock’s cock was half hard already. John must have seen it too. He looked up at the screen. “What do you want me to do next?”

“Hang on, if we’re going to do the same things, I should probably mirror your state of undress.” In one movement, he pulled his shirt over his head. Sherlock could only blink. John’s skin looked soft, golden, his chest adorned with small tufts of fair hair. He stood up and removed his trousers, revealing a pair of black boxer briefs, just like the ones he had worn at the conference.

“I’ll leave the pants on for now,” John said, sitting back down. “We’ll deal with those later.”

“Not completely fair, but I’ll accept,” Sherlock said. “Then again, if I knew we were going to do something akin to strip poker, I would have dressed for the occasion.”

“I usually like to start by stroking myself a bit,” John continued, “just feeling my skin.” He moved his hands over his chest, pausing every now and then at his nipples.

Sherlock mirrored John’s movements, stroking his torso, his eyes fixed on John’s hands. John’s body was softer than his own, but the movement of his muscles was clearly visible under the skin of his compact frame.

“It’s nice,” Sherlock purred. He looked John all over before focusing his eyes on John’s face. “You like it too.”

John smiled. He looked slightly nervous. “Really? Can you read that all in my face?”

“Well,” Sherlock raised an eyebrow, “that, and the bulge in your pants.”

John burst into laughter. “Right. I could have known. You’re not doing so bad yourself, I see.”

“Well deduced, John.”

“Why don’t we do something about that, then.” John moved his hands downwards over his torso, but detoured to both sides before reaching his groin, moving to knead his thighs instead.

Sherlock mimicked the movements. John’s hands were gripping his upper legs, rubbing his thumbs in circles, moving closer and closer to his groin. Sherlock’s skin felt flushed and he had to do his best not to touch his cock. “Can’t we speed it up a bit?” he asked.

John pursed his lips and pulled his mouth into a half-smile. “It seems like you’re getting the hang of this masturbation thing, Sherlock. Hang on.” He raised his hips a few inches, scooted his pants down and moved them down his legs.

As he sat up again, Sherlock saw that John’s cock was fully erect now, jutting out from his body. A soft moan escaped Sherlock’s lips at the sight. He hadn’t had the chance to study John’s cock in detail before, and the sight of it on a computer screen that was just a bit too far away and just a bit too blurry, made him feel strangely wistful. He filed the feeling away, to be analysed further at a more suitable time.

It was a beautiful cock, from what he could see: a constant thickness from base to tip, flushed with a tantalising tint of red. He wondered what it smelled like, what it tasted like. But for now, touching it by proxy was the closest he could get.

“Keep following my lead,” John said. He stroked the creases between his thighs and his groin, moving his thumbs to the base of his cock. Sherlock kept his eyes focused on the screen, imagining that he was touching John’s cock instead. He copied John’s movements exactly, gripping his cock tightly and stroking slowly from the base to the tip and back. When he saw John’s jaw drop and his eyes close, he felt a groan escape his mouth, in tandem with one of John’s.

“God, John, this is incredible.”

“It is, isn’t it? I only wish you were actually here, sitting opposite me, so I could smell you and taste you.”

Sherlock felt his cock quiver at the idea of being so near John. “Oh,” he groaned. “That would be amazing.” Their hands moved on their cocks as one, sliding faster and faster over flushed skin.

“Even just sitting next to you and feeling the heat from your body. But then I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from moving my hand to your body, to feel your skin.”

“Where would you touch me? Tell me where you would touch me, John.” They groaned in unison.

“I would kiss you, ravish your mouth with my tongue. I would slide my hand along your back, feeling your skin and the muscles under it. I would stroke your chest all the way down until I could feel the soft hairs in your groin.”

Sherlock moaned. They were both panting hard now, thrusting into their fists.

“I would move my hand to your thigh,” John continued, “and then finally catch your hand, and move together with it. That’s all I would want. Just to feel you and help you bring yourself to climax.”

“You could, John.” Sherlock couldn’t peel his eyes away from John’s hand moving swiftly over his cock. “It would be delicious. God, I’m close to coming.”

“Keep stroking yourself. You are doing so well. You’re looking so hot.”

And only a few purposeful strokes later, they finished almost in tandem, spurts of semen erupting from their cocks, knocking the breath out of them both.

Before Sherlock’s thoughts could catch up, he was already looking up at John, grinning like a fool. Amazingly, John’s mouth pulled itself into a beaming smile as well. It took them both a few seconds to start speaking.

“That was really nice,” John said slowly. He sounded almost surprised. “It’s much better like this, when it’s balanced.”

“I agree. I hope it helped improve your mood.” Sherlock bit his lip and tried to force the stupid maudlin smile from his face.

“I think it did. Thank you.” John pursed his lips. “We shouldn’t make a habit of it. But it was nice.”

Sherlock nodded, unable to think of anything to say in reply. John was right, he supposed.

“Look,” John continued, “sorry for being so grumpy before. And I feel a bit stupid for not realising what the problem was. The fact that you figured it out instead of me, it’s–” he rubbed a hand over his face, “–I don’t know. Makes me feel a bit silly. Sorry.”

Sherlock shrugged. “I have a tendency to read things in people. Don’t worry about it.”

John nodded. “All right. I should clean myself up…” He trailed off. “Actually, you know what, I’d love to stay and chat, but I do have a stack of papers to grade for tomorrow. We’ll talk about the proposal later, yeah?”

“Don’t you have PhD students to boss around for that? What else do you have them for?”

John sighed, shaking his head, but the smile wouldn’t leave his face. “You actually sound puzzled. No, I like to do some of these things myself.”

“All right. Whatever you want. I’ll try get some more work done. You’ll send me the specifications of the robot?”

“Of course. And a picture of it. Have a good evening.” John hung up, leaving the last image of his smiling face and his naked body etched on Sherlock’s mind.

Well, then. That was… Good? Yes. That was good. Sherlock bit his lip. At least they had ended this on a happier note. It was good, he supposed, that John had confirmed that they shouldn’t do this more often. It didn’t mean anything in the emotional sense, after all. They had just helped each other out.

Sherlock sat back and exhaled. He’d go into the office tomorrow, maybe. They could finally get that bloody proposal out of the way. The deadline was creeping up, after all.

The next day, Sherlock took a cab to Barts, picking up a box of nicotine patches on the way to help him concentrate. As he entered the computer science building, he detoured a little to knock on the door of Mrs Hudson, the building manager.

A older woman looked up from her desk, smiling when she saw the man in her doorway. “Sherlock,” she said fondly.

“Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock said, while stepping into her office.

“Good to have you back. How was the conference?”

“It was…” Sherlock couldn’t suppress a grin. “It was actually quite good.”

“I can imagine! Greg tells me you’re applying for a grant with a most fetching young man.”

Sherlock frowned, trying to keep his smile under control. “Greg said that?”

“Well, he only mentioned his name. I looked up his profile at his university website, of course.” She smiled motherly at him. “Just your type, Sherlock. Well done.”

“I… Well.” Sherlock faltered for a second. “It’s not… His research is quite interesting. That’s all.” And at this very moment he was most likely asleep, alone, in his drab flat four thousand miles away. Sherlock’s chest did something strange at the thought of the fragile digital connection between them.

Mrs Hudson nodded conspiratorially. “Don’t worry, dear. I won’t tell. Oh, these packages came in for you, by the way.” She pointed to a pile of boxes in the corner of her office.

“Ah, the course readers for next semester.” Sherlock ripped the top box open, taking out the uppermost bundle of papers and leafing through the pages. “Could you make sure they’re delivered to the lecture hall on time?”

“I’m your building manager, dear, not your secretary.”

“Wait a second,” Sherlock said. “I asked for printed hardcovers, these are all just bound copies with a flimsy cover.”

“They’re only course readers, Sherlock.”

He frowned. “But students remember more of the material when it’s presented to them in a good, solid container.”

“Not very convincing until you’ve got statistically significant data to support that statement, dear.” Mrs Hudson looked up at him with a mild smile. “Look, Greg is a reasonable man. If you’d actually had a good reason to have them printed hardcover, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a problem. You know he’s rational about spending the budget.”

With a dramatic sigh, Sherlock dropped the course reader back in its box, but before he could complain about the course readers, he was struck by an idea. The budget… Yes, Greg was a rational man. If he could present him with a reasonable… Oh, this would be brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

“Well, I’ve got to dash,” he said lightly. “Oh, could you plan a meeting for me with Greg this afternoon?”

“Not your secretary!” she called after him as he whirled out of her office. Smiling, he sprinted through the hallways to his office.

That afternoon, at the planned time – of course Mrs Hudson had scheduled the meeting Sherlock requested – he burst through Greg’s door.

“Sherlock. Thanks for knocking,” Greg said with a sarcastic tone in his voice.

“What? We have a meeting.” Sherlock never understood why people would knock at times when mutually agreed upon meetings were scheduled. Knocking should have been no more than an unpractical nuisance.

“What can I do for you?” Greg asked.

Sherlock closed the door and sat down. He opened his mouth, hesitated, picked up one of the trinkets on Greg’s desk and put it back down. “Well. You know I don’t like to come to you with problems.” Sherlock made a face. “When I say problems…”

Greg leaned forward. “I’m glad you finally do, Sherlock. I’m here for you.” His tone was serious, but warm.

“Um.” Sherlock bit his lip. “The proposal, right?” he spoke slowly. “The one I’m working on with…”

“Yes,” Greg interrupted him, “obviously the one you’re working on with John Watson.” He looked worried. “Are you doing alright?”

“It’s a bit hard to focus. It seems like we can’t manage to get a lot of work done.”

Greg grimaced. “We really need this. Even if you don’t get the grant. We need to show the board that we’re trying, Sherlock.”

Sherlock looked down, studying his hands. “I know. I’m doing my best. It’s… It’s turning out to be harder than I thought.” He smirked internally at his unintentional pun.

“What seems to be the problem? Do you have different ideas about the research?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s more in the practicals. We try to confer via Skype daily, but the connection isn’t always great, and Kabul has had some power outages. John really wants to work on it, but most of the time, it feels like I’m doing it alone.”

Greg nodded. “Yeah, I understand. That must be difficult. And it’s really important that you’re both in it equally. When’s the deadline again?”

“Two weeks from today.”

Greg stood up and walked over to his window, humming pensively. “Look, it’s…” He turned around to face Sherlock. “You’re serious about finishing this proposal, right?”

“Yes. Obviously.” Sherlock couldn’t help an exasperated tone from entering his voice.

“I could probably… Hang on.” Greg leaned over his desk, grabbed his computer mouse and clicked around a bit. “Yes. How would you feel if we brought John Watson here for, let’s say, the four or five days before the deadline, so you can work on the proposal together full-time? I’ll free you up from your courses.”

Sherlock pursed his lips as if he had to consider Greg’s suggestion. “Really? Are you sure?”

“If you think it would work.”

“Might help.” Sherlock hummed. “Not a bad idea, actually.”

Greg smiled and looked at his watch. “We’ll have to plan soon, though. What time is it in Kabul now?”

“Mid-morning.” Sherlock leapt up from his chair and dashed for the door. “I’ll contact John and make sure we can discuss it this afternoon.” He managed to keep a broad smile from taking over his face until he had exited Greg’s office. Excellent.

Before he reached his office, he started typing a text to John.

John, I need you to call me right away. It’s important. -SH

After sending it, he considered for a moment and then added a second message.

It’s not about pictures or such trivial matters. It’s about the future of – he almost typed ‘our relationship’, but caught himself in time – our proposal. -SH

Barely an hour later, John called.

“John! Good to hear from you,” Sherlock said, unable to keep the eagerness from his voice.

“Sherlock? What’s up? It sounded urgent.”

Sherlock inhaled deeply. “John, how does your schedule look next week?”

“What, besides finishing the proposal? Nothing I can’t heartlessly abandon. Why?”

“You’re coming here.”

“Wait, what? But…” John sounded a bit hesitant. Sherlock could tell that that he didn’t like being bossed around like this. “Well. That’s a bit sudden.”

Sherlock was suddenly nervous. “Just because I was worried that we wouldn’t finish the proposal otherwise, of course.”

“It’s… It could work, actually. I could pawn off my classes to my colleagues. Lord knows I’ve done the same for them often enough.”

“So you’re free? You can come?” Sherlock gripped his leg to stop it from waggling uncontrollably.

“Would be nice to be back in London for a bit. And we would surely be more productive.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

Well, that, and the exhilarating thought of being in the same room as John again, to smell him, to hear him and see him without electronics in between, and maybe even feel his skin, but those were hardly the things one would mention in a professional phone call. Contrary to what people often thought, Sherlock wasn’t unwilling to learn things – not mentioning masturbation in public in the presence of John Watson probably extended to other physicalities as well.

John inhaled audibly. “I’m just a bit worried that we really haven’t got any travel budget to speak of.”

“Don’t worry. We probably… Could you… Hang on.” Sherlock dashed out of his office to peek at Greg’s door, which was open. “Can you Skype me right now? We’ll consult with professor Lestrade right away.”

“Yes. Give me five minutes.” John hung up without saying anything.

Sherlock put down the phone on his desk and balled his fists in celebration. Ah. Yes .

A few minutes later, he had moved his laptop into Greg’s office, and they were sitting slightly too close together in order to both fit on the webcam.

“Doctor Watson!” Greg said, when John appeared on the screen. “Good to see you again. I’m glad to hear Sherlock was able to convince you to come to London for a few days next week.”

John nodded his head in recognition. “Thank you for inviting me. It’ll be much more practical.”

“Yes, I understood that you’re having a hard time focusing,” Greg said.

“Well…” John’s voice trailed off. Sherlock tried to will away John’s blush, and just hoped Greg wouldn’t notice. “It hasn’t been ideal like this, no.”

“I’m happy to devote a bit of our travel budget to Sherlock’s earnest attempts to bring in grants,” Greg said. “If you let me know when you can leave, I’ll make sure your ticket is booked.”

“Sure. Anything else you need to know from me?”

“Passport number, of course. Are you bringing your own laptop or do you need a computer from us? IT aren’t always the fastest.”

“Not that different from my day, then,” John chuckled.

Sherlock scoffed. “I doubt the people from IT are actually proficient in starting up their own computers, let alone do anything productive for other people.”

“Don’t worry,” John said. “I’m bringing my own laptop. I just need a desk, an internet connection and a wall socket. If it’s one without regular power outages, that’ll already be better than what I have here.”

Greg picked up a sheet of paper and studied it. “You’ll share an office with Sherlock. Mrs Hudson, our building manager, will take care of that. Do you have a place to stay in London?”

“I’m afraid not,” John said. “I haven’t got any family in London and I’ve more or less lost touch with most of my friends. Well, except Mike of course, but I can hardly stay with him for a week.”

“Yeah, no problem. We’ve got temporary staff accommodation for visiting researchers. It’s not the most charming, a bit commonplace, but I think it’ll suit you better than a hotel.”

“Wonderful,” John said.

Sherlock bit his lip. Oh. This would be brilliant.

Chapter Text

The tube smelled like London. Well, it actually smelled like pee and soot, but it was better than the combined smell of sand, blood and hot asphalt that assaulted John’s senses in Kabul. He sat uncomfortably in a half-full carriage, drumming the fingers of his left hand on his knee, his right hand holding tightly onto his carry-on. It was dark already, but Sherlock had asked him to come to the computer science building first to pick up the key to his flat, which was only a short walk from there.

After he exited the tube at Barbican and walked up the stairs, John paused for a second, looking up at the tall buildings around them and breathing in the London air. The black cabs and double decker buses triggered the reflex of looking right-left-right when he crossed the street. It wasn’t exactly the prettiest part of the city, but still, he had missed this. London still felt like home, even after having been in Kabul for years now. He was already dreading going back at the end of the week.

John shook his head, trying to lose that thought. Let’s not get ahead of things. First, right now, he was here. He texted Sherlock:

Walking to Barts from the tube now. Will be there in 5 mins.

John’s head felt heavy and cloudy. He had woken up too early after a restless night, and it had been a long day: two flights with a transfer halfway, the constant anticipation of seeing Sherlock, the continuing urge to remind himself that this anticipation was purely academic.

The computer science building of Barts was marked with a small plaque next to the door. Most of the windows were dark. Just as John walked up the stairs to the front door, the door opened and Sherlock dashed out. His dark curls bounced atop his head while he descended the stairs, and his eyes shone brightly as his gaze landed on John.

For a fraction of a second, a number of different scenarios shot through John’s mind – should he shake Sherlock’s hand? Hug him? Kiss him? Just stand there and say hello? – but before he could decide, Sherlock held out his hand, like colleagues would do, of course.

“Good you’re here, John,” Sherlock said, as John reached out to grab his hand. Sherlock’s hand felt warm and smooth, a curious contrast with the crisp evening air.

John couldn’t help the corners of his mouth turning upwards. “Thanks for meeting me here,” he said, letting go of Sherlock’s hand as slowly as he could. He had been aching for human contact – physical contact, anyway – after his Skype sessions with Sherlock. The intimacy without the touching had left him a bit empty, wanting .

They stood there for a few seconds, just looking at each other. Sherlock was grinning like an idiot, John realised. He must be really looking forward to finishing the proposal. Then again, John couldn’t force the smile off his own face either, so he figured it was just as well. He had to be honest with himself: those two seconds of holding Sherlock’s hand had been enough to clear his head like a strong cup of coffee.

Sherlock was the one who broke the silence. “Welcome to London,” he declared, inclining his head slightly. “Do you want a tour of the building?”

John considered. It would be nice to see the building before he’d start working here tomorrow, and the tiredness he’d felt only minutes earlier was completely gone, replaced with the giddy, heady feeling of being in the same physical vicinity as Sherlock. “I’m actually a bit riled up from traveling, so go ahead. I don’t think I could sleep now anyway.” Just being near Sherlock wasn’t something he was ready to let go right away again.

Sherlock darted up the stairs to the front door of the building – couldn’t the man just normally walk anywhere? – and John followed, lugging his case up the small flight of steps.

When John had managed to wrestle himself and his suitcase through the heavy door, Sherlock was already halfway through the deserted hallway.

“Come on, John!” he called after him.

“Yeah, give me a chance to catch up, will you? Hey, can we put this in your office while you give me a tour of the building?”

Sherlock stopped in his tracks, turning around and looking at John, who pointed at his suitcase.

“Ah. Right,” Sherlock said. He waited for John to catch up and led him to a small elevator at the end of the hallway.

Side by side, they waited for the elevator to arrive. “Remember the last time we did this?” John asked, before he could stop himself. Oops. That was uncalled for. He really hadn’t intended to bring up the topic of their sexual encounter – or rather, encounters – at least not this quickly. Glancing sideways, he saw Sherlock’s mouth curve into a small smile.

“What, wait for an elevator?” Sherlock asked.

“Don’t play innocent, you git.”

Sherlock turned his head to look straight at John. “How could I forget?” he asked, smiling, his eyes roaming over John’s skin for a few seconds before the elevator announced itself with a polite “ding”. Sherlock broke the gaze and stepped into the elevator.

Jesus, was Sherlock flirting with him? John felt confused. This was not something they did, did they? He hadn’t really thought that Sherlock was someone who did frivolous things like flirting. But if he did…

John had considered what would happen when they’d meet, of course. He had basically spent the whole day thinking about it. At one point, on the plane, he even had to cover his lap with his cardigan because he was considering a number of possible scenarios in quite some detail – mouths interlocking, hands in pants, tongues on cocks, fingers drifting to unexplored places – but that had of course all been quite theoretical.

And in the end, he had put that all out of his mind, because he came here to work, not to fawn over a tall, dark-haired Englishman with beautiful eyes. And he did expect to work, mostly, or at least he intended to. Sherlock had made it clear that he didn’t do relationships, and this odd Skype masturbation thing had obviously been meant as some sort of stress relief. Bodies, vessels, that sort of thing. They had agreed on that, and that had made it all a lot clearer in John’s mind – no feelings, no problems.

But as he stepped into the elevator after Sherlock, John was so conscious of Sherlock’s lanky figure right next to him that he was seriously considering kissing Sherlock on the mouth. He took a deep breath in an attempt to steady himself, determined not to lose control, and flexed his hands. Next to him, Sherlock was fidgeting with one of his cuffs – apparently the suits had not just been for show at the conference, John concluded absent-mindedly – and inhaled a few times like he was going to speak, but then didn’t. John didn’t trust himself not to burst out into expressions of fondness and affection, so he clenched his jaw and wished for the elevator ride to be over.

After putting John’s suitcase in Sherlock’s office – which was just as messy as his hotel room had been – they walked through the building together while Sherlock explained which department was where.

John savoured the feeling of walking next to Sherlock. He was having a hard time paying attention to what Sherlock was explaining – the distraction of Sherlock’s presence right next to him didn’t exactly make it easier – but in his exhausted state of mind he wouldn’t have remembered most of Sherlock’s tour anyway. Except for a handful of figures hunched over desks, the building was silent and empty.

After they had briefly visited all of the floors, John thought the tour would be finished, but Sherlock led him to a small staircase, which brought them to the basement. An inconspicuous door revealed a medium-sized room, filled to the brim with server racks, each one humming softly. Together, the computers made a droning sound, like a swarm of locusts.

“The data centre,” Sherlock explained. “This is where I often come to think.”

John nodded in understanding. “It’s nice to feel like you’re surrounded by an astounding amount of computing power.”

Sherlock’s eyes met his. “You understand.” His mouth pulled into a small smile, but his eyes looked wistful.

John nodded. “I have the same, but with large hydraulics, mostly. I hole up in our workshop sometimes.”

He was suddenly very aware of Sherlock’s flexible, slender body so close to his own, and their solitude. They could do whatever they wanted here, and no one would know, not even that one peculiar English bloke who had threatened him in the parking garage in Kabul.

He wanted to take Sherlock’s hand, just to hold it for a while, because that handshake at the door had not been nearly enough. Was that too intimate? That wasn’t the sort of thing Sherlock did, right? Almost absent-mindedly, he moved himself closer to Sherlock, who was still staring at him with a plaintive look in his eyes.

“We…” John made a face. “I know we need to focus on the proposal, and I know this is not really a thing we do, but is it alright if I kiss you? Just briefly?”

Sherlock smiled, but the worry didn’t leave his eyes. “Do you want to?”

“Actually, yeah.” John looked up at Sherlock, who smiled a tiny smile, almost invisible.

“Briefly, then,” Sherlock said.

Carefully, they moved closer together, as if it was the first time they touched. In a way it was, John thought. At the conference it had been so infinitely different, filled with lust and urge and heat and some sort of inevitability. Now, it was a conscious decision, and that made it feel fragile and delicate.

John felt the warmth of Sherlock’s body before they even touched. He slid one of his hands around Sherlock’s neck to cup the back of his head, steadying himself with his other hand on Sherlock’s side, just above his hip. The feeling of skin against skin, combined with Sherlock's smell, made his breath hitch. He leaned up and tilted his head, closing his eyes.

And as his lips found Sherlock’s, it seemed like they belonged there. John felt infinitely light, like a kite in the sky, made of thin paper that the sun shone through. They kissed simply, softly, tender rather than eager, no tongues or teeth or moaning. The only feeling in John’s body was the sliding together of their lips, in some sort of acknowledgement of each other’s presence.

After a few moments, John pulled back, but only an inch or two, staying close to Sherlock’s body. Sherlock sighed softly, his breath ghosting over John’s skin.

“I hope this is okay,” John said against the skin of Sherlock’s neck, not moving backwards. For some reason, meeting Sherlock’s eyes was a step he was hesitant to take.

Sherlock let out a soft laugh. “It’s fine.”

John smiled. “Good. Thank you.” He let his thumb caress the soft spot behind Sherlock’s ear, savouring Sherlock’s smell and the warmth of his body. From up close, the skin of Sherlock’s jaw was not as soft and smooth as it had seemed from further away, instead revealing the tiny stubble that broke his fair skin. Unable to stop himself, John moved in, pressing a light kiss to Sherlock’s jaw, and nuzzled the slight roughness with his nose.

Sherlock took a deep breath and stepped back.

“We should get you to your flat,” he said, not meeting John’s eyes.

“Yeah.” John felt a tingle in his throat, a shaky feeling. “I’ll just walk alone if you don’t mind. It’s been a long day. And my internal clock is three and a half hours ahead, if you remember, so it’s already middle of the night for me.”

Sherlock frowned, a flash of disappointment passing over his features. “I… Oh. If you prefer.” He swallowed.

Oh, fuck. John had only wanted to avoid being too clingy, but it seemed like Sherlock wouldn’t mind catching up a bit more. “Well,” John said. “Unless you’re going in the same direction?”

“I could be. How about I carry your case for you? I promise I won’t try to invite myself in.” Sherlock’s smirk looked more fragile than usual.

John chuckled softly. “Well. All right then.” He was a bit surprised at Sherlock’s apparent eagerness to spend a few more minutes with him. A lingering insecurity about their collaboration, perhaps? Fortunately, John had read up a bit on sociopathy in the past few days. Sherlock’s seemingly affectionate behaviour was most likely a calculating means to an end. Probably something work-related, then.

Sherlock nodded, already walking towards the door. “Wait in the hall, I’ll get your case and your key.”

They walked to John’s flat together in silence. When they reached the front door of a drab building with a sign that said “Barts – temporary staff housing” on the front, Sherlock handed John the key and his suitcase.

“Thanks, Sherlock,” John said. He gathered all his courage and continued: “Hey, I feel like I should check in with you about something. Just to be sure. The fun we’ve been having over Skype, yeah?”

Sherlock looked at him, his eyebrows slightly raised. “You were going to say it’s just the physical, right? No emotions. Nothing messy.”

“Um. Yeah. Exactly.”

That’s what the articles about sociopathy had said, too. In a way, John was glad. If Sherlock would have brought up the possibility of something more at this point, John wasn’t sure he’d be able to resist. That last kiss with Sherlock had felt like it could be the start of something more. Not that that was possible, John reminded himself. It would be wonderful if it was. But no, in another world perhaps.

Sherlock cleared his throat. “It does seem perfectly sensible to augment our professional relationship with a physical one. As long as it helps us clear our minds.”

“That’s a good point, I suppose. After all, that's all it has a chance to be, right?” John asked.

“Yes.” Sherlock smiled tensely. “Obviously.”

“All right. Thank you.” John figured he should drop the subject. It was obviously making Sherlock uncomfortable. “And with that said, would you…” He hesitated, meeting Sherlock’s eyes. “Would you like to come in?”

Sherlock’s mouth drew into a smile, a genuine one this time. “Is that a come-on, John?”

John chuckled, shaking his head. “Actually it is, yeah. Well deduced.”

“As much as I’d like to, you need to get some sleep. We’ll be more productive in the morning. We’ve got all week ahead of us.”

“That makes sense.” John nodded.

“A goodnight kiss, then?” Sherlock’s smile had disappeared, but there was a twinkle in his eye.

John braced himself on Sherlock’s forearm and tilted his head up, reaching for Sherlock’s mouth. Their lips met, briefly, more casual than their last kiss, but maybe all the more intimate because of it.

“Thanks, Sherlock. Good night.”

John did his best to hide his smile until he had closed the door behind him.

 

The next day, he woke up to his doorbell ringing. It took him a few seconds to shake himself awake enough to work out where he was. Looked like a hotel room, but slightly more cozy and slightly more rundown, didn’t feel like a hotel room – where was he again? Ah, right, last night, the kiss with Sherlock, he was in London.

The doorbell rang again.

“Jesus, alright,” he mumbled, dragging himself out of bed and riffling through his suitcase for two seconds in an attempt to find his robe. “Ah, never mind,” he muttered to himself, and stumbled through the small hallway to his front door in only his pyjama pants and an old t-shirt.

When he opened his door, Sherlock stood there, looking a bit sheepish, with a half-smile on his face and a cup holder with two giant cups in his hand.

“Sherlock, what are you doing here?” John rubbed his hand over his face, trying to wipe away his smile.

“I couldn’t find takeaway full English anywhere in the neighbourhood, but the least I could do was bring you a cup of tea,” Sherlock said. “And make sure you woke up all right.”

“You mean you wanted to play my alarm clock? Well, thanks a lot.”

Sherlock pushed John aside and entered his hallway. “I think you know what I mean,” he rumbled in a low voice, walking through the hallway into John’s kitchen.

“Yeah, do come in,” John mumbled to himself, closing the front door.

When John entered the kitchen, Sherlock had already positioned himself at the kitchen table with the tea. He even had a newspaper with him, John noticed with some amusement.

“Ooh, can I have that?” he asked, pointing to the paper.

“I already did the crossword while walking here, but go ahead.”

John thumbed through the pages. “But it’s completely empty.”

“Didn’t have a pen with me.” Sherlock tapped his index finger against his skull. “All in here.”

John chuckled and sat down, opening the newspaper. Sherlock moved his legs, bumping his bony knees to John’s. In a small flurry of ouches and sorry’s, they rearranged their legs, so that their calves were resting comfortably against each other. John browsed through the paper while Sherlock took out his phone and did God-knows-what on there.

For a few minutes, they sat there, drinking their tea in silence, until John realised that – oh, bloody hell – this was starting to feel a hell of a lot like domestic bliss. No, this was not good. This was not what they bargained for. He shot up, screeching the legs of his chair over the linoleum-covered kitchen floor.

“I should get dressed,” he announced, and fled to the bedroom.

Sherlock appeared in the doorframe a few seconds later. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked.

“No, no, not at all,” John said, while he opened his closet and picked up one of the folded shirts he had put in there less than twelve hours ago. “I’m sorry. I’m just not used to, er…” His breath was high in his chest. When they had sat there together so comfortably, so much like a couple, it had given him an abrupt feeling of unsettlement. This was going too far. The professional and the physical, yes, not the emotional or the intimate. He was going to fall it love, it would ruin everything again, he’d done it before, he couldn’t make the same mistake again.

He wanted to explain everything to Sherlock, but he couldn’t find the words. It presupposed to much. They had never even spoken of an intimate relationship. Sherlock wasn’t even able to have that, he hadn’t done anything wrong, he had only done everything right, he was an angel for not bringing up the option of an intimate relationship, and John was bollocksing it all up by thinking about it anyway, unprovoked, unwanted.

“I’m sorry,” John continued. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then maybe I could– maybe I could do something right?”

Sherlock stepped into the room, ambled over to John much too casually, sliding his arm around John’s waist and leaned down, not quite kissing him yet.

Strangely, Sherlock’s breath ghosting over John’s lips seemed to blow away all of John’s anxieties. And before any conscious thought could stop him, John leaned up and pressed his mouth to Sherlock’s. It didn’t feel the same as last night at all, it turned heated and urgent in about three seconds and it was only a few seconds more before their mouths opened, tongues searching for each other.

Sherlock tasted like tea and toothpaste.

John slid his arms around Sherlock’s waist, to press him closer to his body. Sherlock cupped John’s face with his large hands, sliding upwards to weave through his hair and then back to brush over the stubble on his chin. They slotted their bodies closer together, as close as they could get with their height difference. John felt acutely aware of every inch of Sherlock’s angular body pressed against his, and of his own desire growing hard against Sherlock’s thigh.

Sherlock apparently felt it too. He let go of John’s mouth with a soft gasp, and moved one of his hands downwards to John’s arse, pressing John’s groin harder against his body. John moved his mouth to Sherlock’s cheek. He kissed a line along Sherlock’s jaw and dipped his face in the crease of Sherlock’s neck, sucking softly on the smooth skin there. Sherlock rewarded John’s effort with a rumbling moan.

“God, John, I–” he stumbled over his words, “–I really only wanted to come here and help you with your morning wank, but now I’m–”

John interrupted him with a kiss, their mouths slotting together, harsh with desire. He ran a hand downwards over Sherlock’s chest, not bothering to unbutton his shirt but feeling the sharp nubs of Sherlock’s nipples through the fabric. He slid his hand further down to Sherlock’s groin, any hesitation or patience suddenly unbearable.

“No,” Sherlock breathed, just as John felt the hardness between Sherlock’s legs, “hang on, there’s something I wanted to–” and without finishing his sentence, he dropped to his knees. John gasped, acutely aware of Sherlock’s mouth suddenly so close to his cock, only separated by the fabric of his pyjama bottoms.

Sherlock’s moved his mouth over the bulge in John’s pants, the heat of his breath only managing to increase John’s hardness, followed closely by his hands. He seemed to study the outline of John’s cock through the thin fabric, tracing the outline with his long fingers. His hands moved carefully from the bottom of John’s cock, right where his legs met, up to the slightly wider head, which was by now quite pronounced through the thin cotton.

John moaned at the rub of rough fabric over the head of his cock, almost too much. Sherlock seemed to be roused from his thoughts by John’s moan, and placed his index fingers under the waistband of John’s pyjama bottoms, tugging it slightly downwards.

“Is this okay?” he asked, looking up to meet John’s gaze.

“Oh, God, yes,” John said.

Even before he finished speaking, Sherlock had tugged John’s trousers down to free his cock, which bobbed freely for a second before Sherlock took hold of it with his hand. He stroked it absent-mindedly while he – again – seemed to examine it as if he were gathering data.

Not that John was bothered. The most bloody gorgeous man on the continent was gliding nimble fingers over his cock, caressing John’s skin with his hot breath. John felt like he might come any second, but he focused on pushing that feeling down, wanting to ride it out for as long as he could.

When he looked down, he saw Sherlock open his own trousers with his free hand and take out his cock – fully flushed, John noticed.

“D’you need a hand?” John asked, his voice unsteady.

“Not right now, John.”

Absent-mindedly, Sherlock started stroking himself, his attention still completely focused on John. He moved closer to John’s hips, softly kissing the dip where John’s cock met his groin. He licked all the way up along the hard flesh until reaching the end, where he wrapped his lips around the head.

Oh God. Those lips. Sherlock’s tongue whirled around the head of John’s cock for a few seconds before he started moving his lips up and down the shaft, and John couldn’t help his hand from tangling in Sherlock’s hair, not insistent, but in an urgent need to touch him. Sherlock let his hand join his mouth and started making longer strokes. When he sucked down deeply, John had to do his best to keep his hips from snapping forward.

The sweat and saliva made Sherlock’s hand glide effortlessly over John’s length, but just as much as the movement, it was the sheer sight of Sherlock’s wet mouth moving over his erection that made John’s cock throb with eagerness.

Sherlock kept working his mouth and his hand over John’s cock, increasing the pace. It didn’t take nearly as long as John would have wanted before he felt the first tendrils of an oncoming orgasm uncurl low in his belly, but Sherlock’s warm mouth was insistent, his tongue doing something that made John’s throat produce noises he couldn’t even dream of suppressing, and then John only had time to groan a sharp “Oh God, Sherlock, I’m going to come–” and Sherlock released John’s cock from his mouth, unrelentingly thrusting his fist around him, and then John came in strong spurts, barely missing Sherlock’s flushed face.

John steadied himself by grabbing onto Sherlock’s shoulders.

“Jesus, Sherlock, that was amazing,” he stammered when he managed to pull his thoughts back together.

John dropped to his knees so he was level with Sherlock and grabbed onto Sherlock’s cock, lining his hand up with Sherlock’s. In a few strokes, Sherlock was gasping heavily, and then it only took a few seconds before he was finished, spurting over John’s pyjama bottoms in thick ribbons.

Sherlock caught his breath and looked up at John. “Not a bad way to wake up at all, is it?”

John smiled and pressed a kiss onto Sherlock’s lips. His mouth was soft and warm, even more so than before. The softness in Sherlock’s gaze twisted something in John’s chest.

“Not at all,” John agreed. Definitely something he could get used to.

No, something he shouldn’t get used to, he reminded himself.

He should really stop this constant exploring of the boundaries of what was acceptable, the boundaries between the physical and the emotional. Maybe Sherlock was incapable of feeling love and emotions, but John really wasn’t. He’d always been perfectly able to sleep with people without falling in love, and so he had let his guard down, and now… Fuck. Sherlock’s smooth skin, his lips against John’s cheek, his tongue in John’s mouth, his breathless moans and piercing stares, that vast army of beautiful things about Sherlock, had somehow penetrated John’s skin and lodged itself deep in his chest.

It would be the worst idea in the world to fall in love with a colleague, because that’s exactly what he had done, years ago, and it had ruined everything.

James had been a brilliant researcher, and he had been forced to give it all up because they had fallen in love, because John had seduced James and they’d fallen into a wonderful, forbidden relationship that had been bound to be discovered. And when it was, it had turned out so much worse than either of them had expected.

So he really shouldn’t fall in love with a colleague again. Maybe it was already too late. No, it couldn’t be, it shouldn’t.

John kissed Sherlock again, softly, savouring the feeling of Sherlock’s lips against his own, and vowed that this would be the last time. If this happened again, John wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop anymore.

Chapter Text

The next day, when Sherlock knocked on John’s door, he was surprised to see John fully dressed and ready to go, laptop bag slung over his shoulder.

“Morning!” John said brightly, wedging himself between Sherlock and the door to close and lock it, and turned around to face Sherlock. “Ooh, thanks.” John took one of the takeaway tea cups from Sherlock’s hands and started walking briskly towards the computer science building.

When Sherlock’s mind caught up to the situation, John was already a few paces away. Sherlock frowned. He had hoped to start the day in a similar manner as yesterday, but John appeared especially eager to go to work. Which was, or should be, quite all right, Sherlock supposed. The proposal was far from finished, after all, and they only had a few days left.

John looked over his shoulder. “Coming?”

“Right. Of course.” It wasn’t that Sherlock didn’t want to work on the proposal. Their plans were quite extraordinary already, and he couldn’t wait until they would actually have the chance to start the project. He pushed away the thoughts of undressing John, of caressing John’s cock and of taking it in his mouth. They’d find another opportunity for that later.

In the office, they fell into the same rhythm as the day before. John had seized Sherlock’s office chair, plus his desk, because the one that Mrs Hudson had found for him had been “too uncomfortable”. Sherlock didn’t mind. He had set up camp on the couch that he’d pilfered from the coffee room on one of the other floors, socked feet tucked under him, surrounded by papers and his laptop.

But he always kept a bit of space free, right next to him on the couch, where John would just fit.

Some of Sherlock’s colleagues dropped by during the day to say hello and have a chat. With John, of course – Sherlock had long ago made a habit of ignoring people when he was working. He vaguely registered that John was engaging in conversation with them, which made him feel a curious mix of annoyance, admiration and something a bit like jealousy, when he realised that John hadn’t talked with him much, except about the work.

“John,” he demanded, while John was in the middle of a conversation with Mike. “We need to discuss how to divide the implementation between the PhD students and the scientific programmer.”

John made a face. “Sorry, Mike. The work calls. ‘The work’ being, well, you know.”

“Don’t worry, mate.” Mike chuckled. “We’ll catch up more later.”

As Mike walked away, John swiveled his chair around to face Sherlock. “What’s so urgent, Sherlock?”

Sherlock frowned at the mocking tone in John’s voice. “I thought you were so intent on working.”

“Yeah, of course. Bit of a break every now and then is all right, though.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and let his mouth curve into a smile. “If you need a break… The door of my office has a lock on the inside, you know.”

John’s tongue darted out to wet his lips, his cheeks meanwhile reddening almost imperceptibly. He laughed briefly, but his eyes betrayed nervousness rather than amusement. “Tempting, but I’m good. Sorry, what did you want to talk about?”

Sherlock did his best to conceal his disappointment as annoyance, rolling his eyes and sighing demonstratively. “Section three of the work plan.”

While they chatted about which tasks were better suited for a scientific programmer than for a PhD student, Sherlock considered if it would be better to try a more subtle approach next time.

Or maybe he’d have to stay away from any hints at sex, subtle or not. After all, John seemed completely swallowed up by the work, barely able to talk about anything else. It was a state of mind Sherlock knew all too well. Sherlock found his own feelings for John quite distracting, but that might be different for John. After all, it was clear that John didn’t feel the same way about Sherlock, so it was quite possible that John was honestly just ‘in the zone’ as far as work was concerned.

It would make sense that the thought of sex was less distracting if it only meant sex, instead of the complicated web of feelings that Sherlock was currently experiencing.

Maybe this period of abstinence was only an investment. If they got the grant, they’d be able to work together full-time for at least five years, and that would bring them plenty of opportunity for exploring the realms of a physical relationship.

All right. Sherlock decided to hold himself back, to wait for John to make the first move instead of trying anything himself. That would do, for now. And he’d do his best to be less distracted by John’s smell, he’d do his best to minimise the moments they brushed against each other in the small office, he’d do his best not to stare at John’s soft face while he worked, or wonder how his lips tasted at various times of the day.

And so, the next days followed a remarkably similar pattern. In the mornings, John was ready to leave, jacket on, bag in hand, when Sherlock came to pick him up. In the evenings, they worked late, until John’s eyes almost fell closed and Sherlock couldn’t bear the thought of keeping him up for longer. He even let John walk home alone.

An investment, after all. Hopefully a good one.

It did hurt, somewhere behind his breastbone, to let John walk past him without touching him, to keep himself from lifting his hand up to caress the small of John’s back, the muscles in John’s upper arms, or the fine, light-coloured hairs in his neck. So sometimes, when he stood behind John to peek over his shoulder at his laptop, and when he was absolutely sure John wouldn’t notice, Sherlock almost touched him, letting his hands follow the curve of John’s upper back, an inch away from the fabric of John’s sweater, feeling the warmth that radiated from his body. And when John did turn around, Sherlock would pretend to pluck a hair or a piece of lint from his shoulder.

Nothing happened.

On the morning of the day before the deadline, Sherlock decided to try something, just once. He extended his arms above his head and stretched, arching his back, before turning to face John.

“John, my shoulders are sore.”

“Hm?” John looked up. “That’s what you get from using your laptop on the couch all day.”

“Which is your fault, for occupying my desk chair.” Sherlock drew his lips into a pout.

John chuckled. “I suppose you have a point. I’m sure if you play it right, you could get Molly to massage your shoulders for you. She’s quite fond of you, you know. She is nice. You should talk to her more often.”

Right. Hypothesis confirmed.

No, wait.

Hypothesis falsified. Spectacularly falsified. Completely shattered by the thought that just popped into Sherlock’s mind. John had talked to Molly a lot. He had not only been working. At all. He had been chatting with Sherlock’s colleagues as well. Quite a lot, even, at times.

Sherlock froze, mid-thought, as a new hypothesis struck him: John had finally caught on to the common knowledge that Sherlock was, in fact, unbearable.

“Although now that we’re talking,” John interrupted Sherlock’s thoughts, “there’s something we need to discuss.” He tilted his head slightly to the side, his eyebrows knit in thought.

“Hm?”

“Emotions.”

Sherlock raised his eyebrows. Oh, no. John was on to him, he had discovered that Sherlock wasn’t a sociopath at all, that he had lots of feelings, that he was barely able to contain them all, that he was completely decimated by all the things that John’s presence did to his body and his mind, that he had a bloody awful crush on John, yes, he could just as well admit it to himself, if he’d have to admit it to John in a second anyway, the all-consuming type of crush that was more expected of teenagers than of rational thirtysomethings.

An unrequited crush, though, on a colleague who thought he was barely tolerable, at most.

Oh, fuck. He inhaled deeply. “John, I–”

“We need to incorporate emotion parameters in the model,” John interrupted.

Sherlock frowned, and hesitated. “That’s not what I–”

“No, I realise that’s not what you had in mind with it. But it would make the model a lot more accurate.”

“Oh.” Not quite what Sherlock had expected. He pushed away his earlier thoughts – the restructuring of his internal reasonings and hypotheses would have to be postponed – and tried to focus on what John was saying. “Emotion parameters?”

“Yeah,” John nodded. “It’s impossible to deny the element of emotions in any practical application of reasoning.”

“But everything fits together so perfectly now.” Sherlock grimaced. “And I’m not sure how much the accuracy would improve, really. Sentiment only makes things more difficult, if not impossible. It doesn’t make sense to include it.”

“Well, it does make things more difficult, but we can’t do without it. People make their decisions based on emotion, so we can’t have our robot rule that out, we would miss too much.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Why can’t we just abstract from any sort of sentiment? Why would you voluntarily add emotions to anything?” It would be so much easier if real life had an off button for emotions. Next best thing, he’d at least do anything in his power to stay as far away from it as possible in the research project.

John frowned, shaking his head. “I don’t know why I can’t make this clear to you. People have emotions, right? You’re with me so far?”

“They do, superfluously. Uselessly. They’d do better without.” Sherlock sighed and pulled his knees up to the seat of the couch, wrapping his arms around his legs.

“Yeah, but they do have them,” John emphasized. “If we want our reasoning engine to simulate the human mind–”

“We want to simulate a superior human mind, John.”

John scoffed. “And you think superior is the same as emotionless? Because you don’t have emotions? Do you really think you’re superior to me?”

“That’s not the point, John.” Sherlock winced. He didn’t trust himself not to say anything stupid at this point, when not even a minute ago he thought he would have to come out and tell John about his feelings for him. “Look, it’s quite a big thing. I have to think about it.” Postponing the discussion would at least give him an opportunity to come up with a strategy.

John looked not quite happy, but nodded. “All right, then. We’ll talk about it later.”

Sherlock managed to avoid the discussion the rest of the day, conjuring up other, marginally related topics whenever John brought it up. Coming up with a strategy was harder than he thought. Even the next day, with the deadline looming over them at midnight, he managed to find other things to discuss whenever the topic of emotion came up, in one desperate case even dropping a full mug of coffee on the floor as a distraction.

He didn’t mean to avoid it, not really, but he needed to figure out his own thoughts about the matter first, and that didn’t turn out to be easy. Or even possible, apparently.

That evening, a few hours before the midnight deadline, they had Indian takeaway dinner delivered to Sherlock’s office.

“Sherlock, I have to say, you were completely right in bringing me here,” John said, taking a bite and waving his fork around in Sherlock’s direction. They were sitting next to each other on the couch, John turned sideways towards Sherlock, his back leaning against the armrest and his feet propped up on the seat between them.

“Agreed,” Sherlock replied. “You're less of a nuisance than most people.”

John rolled his eyes, but his mouth was smiling. He inhaled sharply, as if wanting to say something, but then made a face and leaned back with an indecisive hum.

“What?” Sherlock asked.

John frowned, pursing his lips. He hesitated. “Well, since it’s our last night here anyway… I was just thinking, it’s been going so well.” He sounded surprised. “To be honest, before I arrived I wasn’t sure how things would go.”

“What things?” Sherlock asked. Had he not been sure of the collaboration? Or whether this would work, the proposal? If he’d like it here? If he would be able to work with Sherlock for more than two days?

“Well. You know.” John cleared his throat. “If being near you, physically, wouldn’t distract from the proposal too much.”

“I’m glad it hasn’t turned out to be,” Sherlock said, his tone more cheerful than he felt. He had, of course, hoped that bringing John to London would bring them the opportunity for plenty of physical distractions. Not to mention that he had, in fact, found John’s presence greatly distracting, even despite the fact that they hadn’t had sex anymore after that first morning.

Not that Sherlock hadn't been able to work or think properly, because he was always able to work and think properly, but he hadn’t been able to evoke his usual hyper-focus. Instead, he was always aware of John’s location in the room, registering how he held his limbs, where his hands were, and somewhere in the back of his mind imagining himself under those hands. It was a constant effort to keep himself from touching John in small ways or smiling at him too much or breathing purposefully onto his neck when he hovered closely over John’s shoulders to peek at what he was writing.

Right now, for example, the foremost thing in Sherlock’s mind wasn’t the fact that they only had about five hours to go before the midnight deadline, but the fact that John’s foot was approximately 4.5 inches from Sherlock’s upper leg. It was interesting, how different a room felt when John was there, how differently time and space seemed to behave when John was involved. Sherlock made a mental note to go back to theoretical physics sometime in the future to see if he would be able to make sense of this strange phenomenon.

As a preliminary experiment, Sherlock moved his leg slightly, to see if the change in distance between himself and John would have an effect on the perceived size of the room. He saw John’s gaze drop down to the point where they almost touched, and the room suddenly felt too small and too large at the same time.

Magnets. The closer they were, the more they attracted. And the effect was only magnified over the past few days, as if they’d been building up more and more of this magnetic energy by not touching each other.

John’s eyes flitted upwards again, meeting Sherlock’s gaze, and his tongue darted out of his mouth to wet his lips. The room felt cramped, like there was not enough oxygen, and at the same time, the distance between him and John was like a canyon Sherlock wanted to tightrope across, feeling the exhilaration of closing the distance, the interminable pull of the opposite side.

It had to stop.

Sherlock closed his eyes and shook his head almost imperceptibly to clear his mind. John was right: they had been able to work hard on the proposal. Sherlock had always liked immersing himself in a difficult piece of work, and John’s presence was less grating on his nerves than that of other people.

“I honestly believe we’ve got something really amazing on paper right now,” Sherlock said, in a sudden burst of desire to change the subject, reluctant to meet John’s eyes. “This is such a novel application of my reasoning models.”

John cleared his throat. “It is. I don’t know if I’ve already thanked you for asking me to join you on the proposal.”

Sherlock looked up to see John smile at him.

“My pleasure.” Sherlock’s eyes were fixed on John’s. “It has been quite–” he hesitated, wanting to say magical, extraordinary, profound, “–quite a good collaboration.” The air between John and himself seemed thinner than usual. Even something as simple as a barometer would be an interesting way to check these perceived changes in atmospheric pressure.

John inhaled deeply and broke the gaze. “It’s just the one thing you know I still think we should add.”

Sherlock scoffed. “We’ve talked about this before,” he said curtly.

“Yes, and I stand by my viewpoint. I still think we can’t do without the aspect of emotions in the reasoning engine.”

“We’ve only got a few hours left before the deadline, John. Isn’t it a bit late for that?”

“Excuse me?” John shook his head. “It’s not like I haven’t tried to have this discussion with you before. You know we could still do it if we worked on it together.” He was looking stern now, the way he always did when unable to concede a point.

“Look, I’ve told you, it doesn’t make sense,” Sherlock said. He tried to stop his leg from doing a nervous wiggle, and suddenly wished he had his nicotine patches with him. “It would take too much away from the beautiful theoretical side of things. It’s just not possible to combine sentiment with logical reasoning.”

He got up from the couch and started pacing around the office. He still hadn’t managed to sort out any clear arguments from the disarray in his head, let alone figure out a good way to structure that part of the project. Better to leave it be.

“I don’t understand why you can’t see the added value,” John said, exasperation creeping into his voice. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is going to cost us the grant.”

“Cost us the grant? That’s ridiculous,” Sherlock snapped.

John’s jaw tensed and his mouth drew into a grimace. He shook his head. “I should have pushed my point before.”

Sherlock snarled in frustration. “John, can’t you see? If we include emotions, that will spoil everything. Our carefully constructed plans and arguments… Everything would be fouled up. Emotions ruin everything.”

“Oh, right.” John sounded skeptical. “ You’re going to lecture me about emotions?”

“You know what the problem is with emotions? Once they start, the floodgates open, and it’s impossible to stop them anymore.”

“How would you know?” John shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense.” He got up from the couch as well, clenching his hands into fists. His face was flushed and tense.

“I’m trying, okay?” Sherlock felt tears well up behind his eyes. He turned away from John, doing his best to will the tears away. “I’m trying to see things clearly, but I can’t. That’s where sentiment gets in the way. This is exactly the problem, that’s what I’m telling you.”

“No,” John said, suddenly calm, “you know what the problem is? You won't just take my word for something you know nothing about."

Sherlock turned back to look at John. Completely irrationally, he felt like he was punched in the gut. Of course John believed Sherlock didn’t know anything about emotions, of course he did, it was Sherlock’s own fault for telling John that he was a sociopath, wonderful beautiful radiant John who trusted Sherlock to tell the truth, but still it hurt that John hadn’t been able to see through it at all.

“Right,” Sherlock said, forcing his voice under control, “obviously. If you say so. I cannot deal with emotions. At all. That’s one of the things that’s absolutely clear to me now.”

“Exactly.” John’s eyes were fixed on Sherlock’s, but not in the heated, lustful way that they had before. There were creases around his eyes that hadn’t been there before, angry creases. “So you should have trusted me. But apparently you don’t. We can’t work together like this, Sherlock.”

Sherlock recoiled at the cold and hurtfulness in John’s voice. “No, you’re absolutely correct,” he attempted, “I shouldn’t have–”

“It’s my fault,” John interrupted, shaking his head, “I shouldn’t have let this go before. But you know what, you’re right, let’s keep it like it is. It’s too late to add it in a well-researched way anyway.” He blinked, looking at Sherlock as if he was considering something.

And then, before Sherlock had figured out what to say in order to make him stay, John inhaled deeply and turned away, shoved his laptop into his bag and pulled his coat off the rack near the door. “I guess that means we’re done.” He pulled the door open, banging it against the wall, and marched out of the office.

God, stupid emotions were getting the better of John. It was useless for him to blame himself. It wasn’t his fault.

“John! Can’t you see?” Sherlock stepped out into the hallway to call after him. “This is yet another case where emotions–” His voice cracked. Where emotions ruin everything, he was going to say, but he held himself back just in time. John thought Sherlock didn’t have emotions, so he would interpret it as an insult to his own emotional departure, and that would only make things worse.

John didn’t turn around.

There was no way Sherlock could explain that it wasn’t John’s emotions that were ruining everything.

Sherlock stubbornly refused to chase after him. He sat down at John’s desk – he was already thinking of it as John’s, Sherlock realised with a muted sense of amusement – and crossed his arms. Four hours until the deadline. He would wait until John came back, they would talk it out, they would agree, and then they would submit the proposal. And everything would turn out alright.

Nothing happened. The office grew quieter and Sherlock kept listening for John’s footsteps in the hallway. He’d have to be back soon. His tea was getting cold on his desk. The deadline was creeping up, the minutes were ticking away, and they needed to submit soon.

Molly stopped by Sherlock’s office on her way out. “Deadline tonight, right?” she chirped. “Where’s John?”

Sherlock looked up at her from his laptop. New shoes, fancy dress, no lipstick. She’d made herself look nice, expecting to be kissed. Date, but not a first date.

“He, erm...” Sherlock made a face. “Never mind. He’s just off for a second. We’re almost finished.” He didn’t want to bother Molly with his stupid problems and the stupid fight he’d just had with John. It was his own stupid fault. He should fix it. Not that he knew how, but he would figure it out.

“Yeah?” She looked at him questioningly. “Are you alright?”

Sherlock frowned. “Of course I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be?” He gestured vaguely towards the door. “Go on, good luck with your date, have fun, doing like normal people do.” He turned his back to the door and hunched over his laptop. When he turned back a minute later, Molly was gone.

Three hours until the deadline. Sherlock wondered why they always planned these things at midnight. He fidgeted with a pen, looked out of the window, and then paced to the end of the hallway to look out of another window. The streets were dark. No sign of John anywhere.

Two hours left. Fortunately they had already filled in all of their information in the digital submission system, so Sherlock only needed to upload the final version of the proposal. Uselessly, he kept spell-checking the document. Of course there were no spelling errors. He did another word count on each of the sections to check if they weren’t too long.

One hour left. Sherlock found himself adding a paragraph about emotions to the proposal, then deleted it again. No, it wouldn’t do to add only a short section about it. If – if – they were going to add it, it should be well-researched, well-structured and well-referenced. They could have a complete PhD project completely dedicated to the topic. It had to be all or nothing. And now it was too late and it was going to be nothing.

Half an hour left.

Fifteen minutes. Suddenly, Sherlock was doubting whether John still wanted to be on the proposal. Did he have the right to submit it without John’s final approval? Maybe not officially. But who even cared about officially.

Ten minutes. Okay. He had to do it now. He couldn’t wait until one minute before the deadline, it was too risky. There was always the chance that the system would be overloaded at that point, especially with a privately owned research fund like this one. Sherlock walked to the end of the hallway one more time, to see if John was anywhere in sight.

He wasn’t.

Alright then.

Sherlock walked back to his computer, unsure if he was doing the right thing, and clicked the ‘Upload document’ button. Select. Upload. Scroll down. Submit. Are you sure? Confirm.

There. Sherlock put his head in his hands and sighed. Well. Now it was out of his hands at least, and up to the reviewers.

Then, he found himself walking over to the elevator, all the way downstairs, and then to the secret little stairway to the basement. He fumbled with the key Molly had made for him, but couldn’t manage to unlock the door to the data centre. Against all likelihood, he turned the handle.

The door was unlocked.

When the door swung open, Sherlock saw John sitting with his back against one of the server racks. His head shot up when Sherlock entered.

“Molly let me in,” John said. He looked surprised and bewildered.

Sherlock could only blink.

“I… I needed to think.” John said. His eyes darted back and forth onto Sherlock’s face and away, his eyebrows drawn up in sorrow.

Sherlock walked over to John and sat down against the server rack opposite him. “I submitted the proposal.” He hoped the steady drone from the servers was able to mask the shakiness in his voice.

John lowered his eyes. “Thanks. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.” His face settled into a remorseful expression, and Sherlock wanted nothing more than to take him in his arms and stroke his back until he was feeling all right again. “I’ve been thinking about the emotions thing. There’s something about it that really bothers me.”

“It bothers me too,” Sherlock said. “You shouldn’t have walked away. We could have discussed it.”

John shook his head. “No. I tried to discuss it before. You kept avoiding the subject. I suppose you do have a point in saying that it is too big to incorporate in this proposal, it’s a whole project in itself. But that’s not the thing I’ve been…” His voice trailed off. “What I don’t understand…” John pursed his lips and looked up to Sherlock to study his face. “You were talking about emotions as if you knew what they are. I’ve been trying to work out what that means.”

“Ah. Yes.” Sherlock averted his eyes.

John took a deep breath. “When you said that emotions made everything more complicated… You weren’t talking about the proposal, were you?”

“I’m fighting the same fight that you are, John. My feelings for you are obviously a nuisance for both of us.” He winced, suddenly too tired to sustain the neutral expression he’d forced onto himself for the past few days.

“What? Your–” John frowned. “I’m not sure I… You have feelings for me?”

Sherlock sort of half-nodded his head, rolling his eyes. Well, obviously. John wasn’t stupid, was he?

“But I thought you…” John’s eyes darted back and forth, and his eyebrows drew together in confusion. “Wait, Sherlock, did you lie to me, that first day?”

Ah, there it was. It had only taken him half a minute longer than Sherlock had expected. This would be the end of everything. John wouldn’t want to work together anymore. Sherlock was not only unlikeable, he had also flat-out lied to John, on the first day they’d met no less.

In an attempt to save everything, he had ruined it all. John was going to leave. Sherlock closed his eyes and waited for the end.

“Sherlock?”

He forced himself to raise his head, to look John in the eye.

“I did. I’m sorry. I was trying to fix things.” Sherlock swallowed hard. “I know you don’t like me very much. I wanted to give you a way out of having to interact with me socially.”

John shook his head. “Oh, Sherlock. No.”

“It’s all right,” Sherlock continued. “Most people don’t like me very much. I can live with it.” He bit his lip in an attempt to keep it from trembling.

John’s mouth did something weird, like he was going to cry and laugh, and his eyebrows drew upward into something that Sherlock couldn’t work out, something that looked either like sorrow or surprise. “Look, Sherlock, I know you don’t like to hear that you’re wrong…”

Sherlock nodded in resignation. “Of course.” He had been wrong about so much. It had all been an utter failure.

John’s muscles tensed in an onset of movement. This was it. He was leaving.

And then, John pushed himself not upwards, but forwards, scooting closer to Sherlock, and wrapped his fingers around Sherlock’s chin, raising it to look him in the eye.

“Sherlock. I’ve actually been trying my best to not like you too much. Seems like I failed.”

“That’s odd,” Sherlock blurted out, “because most people find it quite easy to dislike me,” and only then did the meaning of John’s words strike him.

Trying not to like him? Failing not to like him? Sherlock blinked fast, unable to speak while his mind was working through an enormous backlog of deductions based on incorrect premises and assumptions.

John didn’t dislike him.

John liked him.

John had believed Sherlock when he said he was a sociopath.

John had acted distant, but not because he disliked Sherlock.

John thought Sherlock didn’t like him.

The cacophony of new information in his head made Sherlock’s throat feel strangely tight. For lack of words, he extended his hand to touch John’s cheek. It was surprisingly warm, and the stubble felt rough against Sherlock’s hand. Was he allowed to do this? Then, John closed his eyes and leaned into Sherlock’s touch, forcing all the air out of Sherlock’s lungs in a surge of relief. He caressed John’s cheek with his thumb, and the corners of John’s mouth turned upwards. The hum in John’s throat reverberated in Sherlock’s hand.

This was real. This was really happening.

Sherlock gathered up all his courage, wrapped his other hand around John’s neck, and pressed their lips together.

Chapter Text

John couldn’t get enough of kissing Sherlock. The way that these kisses felt different, different again from all the previous times they’d kissed, amazed him. There was a tenderness and a heatedness in them now that hadn’t been there before, not together at the same time. It was quite possible that he would never grow tired of the softness of Sherlock’s lips, the little sounds and sighs that escaped from Sherlock’s throat when they kissed, the way Sherlock’s hands tangled in John’s hair and grasped at his shirt.

John pulled back a few inches and studied Sherlock’s flushed face, his half opened mouth, his wet lips. God, it was finally happening. He was actually kissing Sherlock and he could finally let himself enjoy it fully, and it made him giddy with joy, overflowing like a soda machine on overdrive.

“You’re amazing,” he whispered against Sherlock’s lips. “You’re bloody gorgeous, do you know that? You’re brilliant, you’re extraordinary, and I can’t believe I’ve been able to stay away from you for all this time, and I can’t believe I’m finally able to tell you all this.”

His hands, which had dislodged Sherlock’s shirt from his trousers and crept under them ages ago, wandered over the warm skin of Sherlock’s back. John just couldn’t get over the fact that Sherlock’s body felt so soft and angular at the same time, and so right.

Sherlock’s mouth drew into a fond smile. “I… Do you… I can’t…” He huffed a frustrated laugh. “Well, this is awkward. You seem to have affected my Broca’s area.”

“Wait, whose area?” John wasn’t sure he had understood Sherlock.

“Part of the frontal lobe. Responsible for speech production.”

“Ah, I see.” John smiled. “You mean I actually make you speechless?”

Sherlock tipped his head in concession. “It seems so.”

“Well, there’s a rare occasion.” John captured Sherlock’s lips again, brushing his fingers through Sherlock’s soft curls.

They’d been kissing for over an hour, like a pair of teenagers who were only just discovering the art, and it was amazing. John felt like his mind was still catching up to the events of the evening. Sherlock, the man without feelings, turned out not only to have feelings, but feelings for him. John wasn’t sure what to make of that, but for now, he couldn’t tear his mind away from the mere thought that his affection for Sherlock was reciprocated, that he hadn’t been crazy to have this ridiculous crush, that he hadn’t been imagining things when he’d had fantasies about there being a chance of something more than a professional relationship or what had seemed, in retrospect, like a string of one night stands.

After they’d kissed in the data centre, when they’d been out of breath and astonished by each other’s words and lips, Sherlock had got up and held out his hand to John, and they’d gone up to Sherlock’s office together, unable to keep themselves from stealing small kisses on the way. Entering Sherlock’s office, Sherlock had kicked the door closed and pushed John against the wall, crushing their mouths together.

And now they were on the couch in Sherlock’s office, and John couldn't get enough of the delicious feeling of Sherlock’s lips on his. He opened his mouth and let himself indulge in the taste of Sherlock’s mouth and the feel of their tongues sliding together. A groan vibrated through Sherlock’s throat, urging a sigh from John’s lips. This was exactly what he had wanted for days. No, from the moment he’d met Sherlock, really.

Sherlock pulled back a few inches, studying John’s face. “What?” he asked.

“What do you mean, what?”

“You were laughing.”

“No, I wasn’t.” John chuckled. “Well, now I am.” He let his fingers explore the sharp line of Sherlock’s cheekbones and his jaw, memorising the feeling. He wanted to learn Sherlock inside out, study the way his limbs moved and make a map of the places where his bones were sharp under his skin and where they were padded by muscle or tendons.

“You were thinking about something,” Sherlock suggested.

John tipped his head. “I was thinking about when I first saw you, at the conference. Mike dragged me along to your presentation, and I was a bit skeptical at first, but…” John bit his lip. “I don’t know. I liked your voice, and looking at your mouth. I think I only really heard half of what you said. A bit silly.”

Sherlock frowned. “Why silly?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even know you yet.”

Sherlock pressed a kiss to John’s forehead. “Hmm. I still can’t believe you like me, now that you know me.”

John chuckled and sought Sherlock’s mouth, taking Sherlock’s bottom lip between his teeth softly and reveling at the sound it drew from Sherlock’s throat. God, this was amazing.

“Lord knows I tried not to,” John murmured.

“Why?” Sherlock asked, pulling back. His eyes narrowed as he studied John’s face, as if he could read the answer in John’s features.

John almost couldn’t remember. He thought back to when he had just met Sherlock and–

Oh, bloody hell. Out of nowhere, an unsettling feeling of dread enveloped John quickly, releasing him from his safe feeling in a burst of adrenaline, like a horror film fast-forwarding to the murder scene.

Unbelievably, he’d forgotten what it was that had made him feel uneasy about his feelings for Sherlock in the first place.

The little voice in the back of his mind had been obscured for the last hour, completely drowned out by the all-consuming fire of his passion for Sherlock and the relief that had tingled through his body after Sherlock’s confession of his feelings for John, but now it was shouting out loud:

You’re not supposed to love a colleague. It’s going to ruin him.

It wasn’t a nagging little voice anymore, it was a heavy, foreboding feeling, pressing on his chest and saying: this is going to end in disaster. You’ve done it before and now you’re doing it again. You’re going to ruin Sherlock Holmes, the most brilliant researcher in the world, just like you ruined James Sholto before him. Sherlock’s career is going to be shattered and it will be your fault. John Watson, serial career destroyer.

John tried to push the thoughts away, tried to distract his mind by leaning forward to press his lips against Sherlock’s, but Sherlock leaned back, a deep frown between his eyebrows now.

“What’s wrong?” Sherlock asked.

John inhaled. Where should he start? Was there anything he could say, at this point? Anything that wouldn’t make Sherlock hate him, even though John was actually trying to save him by avoiding what he’d done to James?

When it had just been sex, he had been able to tell himself that there wasn’t anything going on, but now… John wasn’t sure if he could ever tear himself away from Sherlock’s tall, slender, beautiful body, and that was bad news. Bad news for colleagues. John felt a lump rise in his throat.

“I just…” he tried, “There’s… Well.” The words wouldn’t come.

“Your Broca’s area too, then?” Sherlock half-quipped, but there was sorrow in his eyes.

John drew his face into a painful smile. He couldn’t catch his breath, couldn’t seem to do more than inhaling in shallow pants, unable to exhale properly.

Internally, he tried to talk some sense into himself: no, you’re imagining things. Why would Sherlock be ruined by your affection for him? It’s a completely different situation from what happened with James. But there was the voice from the mysterious man who had summoned him in the parking garage in Kabul.

I will do anything to keep that from happening to Sherlock Holmes.

The haunting threat echoed in his mind like a hollow kaleidoscope.

It wasn’t even the threat itself. John wasn’t scared easily. But it was a confirmation of his own fears, of the parallel between James and Sherlock. John was not imagining things. He had dated James, they had been lovers, and that had been the direct cause of the end of James’ career. He had made a mistake once, and he couldn’t bear doing it again.

Sherlock shook his head, his eyebrows creased in sorrow. “John,” he said softly, brushing his fingers against John’s cheek. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. The anguish didn’t leave his face. “I can’t figure out what’s wrong. What did I miss?”

John sat back against the armrest, facing Sherlock, and pulled his knees up. His heart clenched at the sight of Sherlock’s expression: open, scared, vulnerable. He looked about ten years younger than his age.

“Okay, look.” John shrugged. “The simple version of the story is that I don’t date colleagues.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “Hmm. Dating colleagues isn’t necessarily wrong, but can be frowned upon in cases of suspected nepotism. You’re a man of principle, but your strong morals would prevent you from favouring other people or treating them unfairly, so it can’t be that… Oh!” His eyebrows shot up. “Personal history. You dated a colleague before. And you broke up. Dramatically, I suppose.”

John let out a mirthless laugh and tipped his head in a sort of nod. Usually he didn’t really care for having himself analysed by Sherlock, but in this case, where it was hard to find the right words, Sherlock’s exceptional powers of deduction were actually quite practical.

“Yeah, basically,” he said. “We fell in love while working together, people found out, bad things happened, his career ended.”

“His career ended?” Sherlock shook his head. “That’s not usually what happens in case of a breakup.”

“When the news of our relationship got out, we were arrested. In Kabul. And. Um.” John rubbed a hand over his face. “We weren’t exactly treated well.”

“You weren’t… What do you mean?” Sherlock’s voice had turned from soft to urgent.

John winced. Even without all the horrible detail, it was a difficult story to tell. “Homosexuality isn’t exactly legal in Afghanistan. Long story short, the embassy managed to get us released, and the story was kept under wraps in exchange for his resignation. Quite preferable when the alternative is the death penalty.” He cleared his throat in a hopeless attempt to keep his voice from wavering. “I didn’t want him to take the fall for us, but there was no other way. He was my boss, so he was deemed responsible.”

“And you stayed in Kabul?”

“I felt so guilty.” John studied the ceiling. His throat felt sore. “Especially since I’d been the one who pursued him. I felt like I should take the fall, but he told me to stay, without him, to continue our work. He said we shouldn’t both suffer from his–” he swallowed hard, “–his mistake.”

Sherlock nodded. “That actually makes sense.”

John’s throat tightened up at the resigned look on Sherlock’s face. “Christ, Sherlock, you think he was right?” He shook his head. “You’re actually saying that he made a mistake.” A feeling of betrayal crept up in his chest.

“No, it makes sense that you shouldn’t both leave. Not that it was a mistake. If it’s–” Sherlock grimaced, “–if it’s a mistake to love John Watson, then I’m making a mistake right now.”

Oh, fuck. John huffed a surprised laugh and caught Sherlock’s eye.

It took him a few seconds to find his voice. “You’re unbelievable, you know that?” he blurted out, feeling like there was something better he should say. This was all going so fast and he wasn’t sure what he felt about that. Only hours ago, he had believed Sherlock was some sort of emotionless machine. Ridiculous, looking back. But this, an admission of love out of the blue, felt like going from zero to one hundred in about three seconds.

“Oh.” Sherlock smiled nervously and reached out to hold John’s hand. “I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not terribly experienced with–”

“No, no,” John interrupted, “I… Thank you.” He winced. Not a good reply to a declaration of love. But it was all going too fast, so what could he say? “Sorry if I can’t– I guess I’m just still getting used to the idea of… No, it’s fine, I just, I hope I’m not letting you down if I’m not able to…” John took a deep breath and flicked his eyes up to the ceiling for a few seconds before looking at Sherlock again. “Christ.” He pulled his mouth into an apologetic smile. “Broca’s area, you said?”

“We’ll make one of PhD students do a side project on the effect of endorphins on Broca’s area,” Sherlock said. His voice was soft.

“Look,” John said. “The thing is, if there’s any risk of something going wrong…” He let out a shaky breath and pulled his hand back. “We can avoid it easily if we don’t… If we don’t do this.” He vaguely gestured from himself to Sherlock and back.

“You’re scared?” Sherlock frowned. “I wouldn’t have expected you to be scared so easily. It’s probably some sort of traumatic reaction.”

Well, maybe it was. What did Sherlock know? He’d never had to force himself to feel relieved that he’d ruined his lover’s career, the alternative being the death penalty.

John shook his head. “You don’t understand. It was our relationship that put him at risk. I knew it was illegal and I still pursued it and it ruined him. It could have got us both killed.”

“John. Listen to me.” Sherlock looked confused. “I’m not sure if I need to explain this to you, but homosexuality has not been illegal in Britain for almost fifty years. As long as we work here, or even in many other countries, we’ll have no problem at all.”

John looked up at Sherlock, frowning, considering. Sherlock had a point. Of course. Of course John knew this.

Maybe he’d been in Afghanistan so long that he’d forgotten how life was in other countries. That he was able to walk around and look at a bloke’s bum without running the risk of being fined or arrested. And Sherlock had also been right, earlier, when he said that John would never let himself be influenced by feelings of nepotism. But then, what had the mysterious man in the parking garage been on about?

“Well,” John started. “I suppose you’re right, but there’s something…” He hesitated, pursing his lips.

Oh, but he didn’t have to figure it all out himself, did he? He had a genius at hand here, after all.

“Can I tell you something?” he continued. “It’s a bit of a strange story. I’m beginning to think I’ve dreamt it all.”

Sherlock nodded, his head cocked to the side and his eyes flickering with interest. “You know I’m good at solving mysteries. In another universe, I think I’d have done well as a detective of sorts.”

John chuckled. “Maybe you would. Anyway, I met this strange man in Kabul… He invited me, or, no, summoned me to come to the parking garage, and we had a really strange conversation.”

“Oh, I see.” Sherlock’s face smoothed out quickly, and he nodded. “Did he say he was my enemy?”

John let out a surprised huff. “Your enemy? That sounds serious. Well, he was being quite dramatic.” He did his best to remember the conversation. It seemed ages ago, but it was only a week or two. “He was an ‘interested party’, if I remember correctly. Do you know who he is, then?”

“Did he offer you money to spy on me?”

“What? Seriously?” John made a face. Sherlock’s questions surprised him just as much as his apparent ease with the situation. “He just said that he didn’t want us to be together. Why, do you have earlier experiences with mysterious men who meddle in your love life? Oh God, is he an ex of yours?”

Sherlock snorted with laughter. “An ex? Oh, John. No, it’s just my brother, going out of his way again to make sure I’m unhappy.”

Wait. What? For a few seconds, John couldn’t do anything besides shake his head. His mind was oddly blank. “Your brother.” He blinked, raising his eyebrows. “Honestly?”

Sherlock’s mouth drew into a pout. “Meddling in my business again,” he muttered. “A truly insufferable man. I can’t believe we share a similar set of genes.”

At the moment, John could believe that they did. A flair for the dramatic, an impeccable sense of dress…

“Hmm. Don’t worry about Mycroft, John.” Sherlock tried to wrap his arms around John, impeded by John’s knees between them, and settled for stroking John’s neck with his thumb, laying his other hand on John’s knee.

“I still don’t understand what’s going on, though,” John said. “ Why does your brother have a problem with us, exactly?”

Sherlock sighed. “I don’t know. I’m sure there’s something. It doesn’t matter, John. He’s not… Well, he is dangerous, but only to other people.”

“Right. Okay.” He exhaled through pursed lips. “This is all a bit much, you know?”

Sherlock did something that was half shrug, half nod. “I can’t say I’m sure my mental models have updated themselves completely. I don’t care. They’ll run as background processes in the brain. The premises are all positive, so there’s a good chance nothing bad will come out. Come home with me?”

Chapter Text

Sherlock considered John’s obvious hesitation. Yes, it was a big change, one he hadn’t seen coming a few hours ago. “I can’t say I’m sure my mental models have updated themselves completely,” he conceded. He’d been highly confused at first, but kissing John had brought endorphins and adrenalin that had made him feel elated and giddy, and completely dulled the concerns he’d had earlier. “I don’t care. They’ll run as background processes in the brain. The premises are all positive, so there’s a good chance nothing bad will come out. Come home with me?”

God, he wanted nothing more than to take John home and peel his clothes off of him layer by layer, to lead him to his bedroom and do all kinds of filthy things to him, or just simply lie next to him and stroke his skin to see what happens, to learn which spots on John’s body were ticklish and soft and bony and smooth, to study his wrinkles and scars like a map. Sherlock had never been interested in hardware before, but John’s body was a work of art.

“What?” John laughed. “God, the way you talk. It’s like a lecture and an aphrodisiac at the same time.” He pursed his lips. “Let’s just stay here for a while longer, all right?”

Sherlock shrugged. His own couch at home would surely be more comfortable, not to mention his bed – his heart jumped at the thought of taking John to his bed – but he was content enough with having John’s lips and his body near him.

“Fine,” he said, his voice low, “as long as you don’t stop touching me.”

John smiled, apparently relieved, and took Sherlock’s face in his hands, meanwhile sitting up on his knees. “You unbelievably gorgeous creature, you.”

He kissed Sherlock, hard and insistent, and Sherlock let himself be overwhelmed by John’s lips, his tongue smooth and hot when it pushed past Sherlock’s lips. John lowered his weight onto him until they were lying down on the couch, Sherlock on his back and John half draped over him. The new position allowed John to unbutton Sherlock’s shirt, meanwhile giving Sherlock the opportunity to knead John’s buttocks with his hand while he cupped the back of John’s head with the other.

John really was an excellent kisser, driving Sherlock almost over the edge with his arsenal of different moves. John was able to go from softly sliding his lips over Sherlock’s to heated moments where he explored Sherlock’s mouth with his tongue, but never too aggressively.

Just when John managed to distract Sherlock by sliding his hand into Sherlock’s shirt to graze over his nipples, he gently caught Sherlock’s bottom lip between his teeth, sucking it into his mouth. Sherlock couldn’t bite back a loud gasp. He grabbed harder onto John’s bum, pulling it against his own hips. Oh. John was already hard.

“Christ, Sherlock,” John groaned, “how is it that we’re able to go from innocent kisses and me telling you about my last breakup to this, whatever this is, in about two minutes?”

“You started talking about aphrodisiacs, John.” Sherlock let his voice drop down to a low croon. “Don’t blame me for turning our encounter into something lascivious.”

John kissed along the line of Sherlock’s jaw to his neck and let out a shaky exhale, softly biting the skin there. He stroked Sherlock’s chest and let his warm fingers caress Sherlock’s nipples. Sherlock’s breath hitched at the touch and he captured John’s lips again, moaning softly into John’s mouth.

John moved his hand to Sherlock’s face, stroking Sherlock’s bottom lip with his tongue. “Your mouth is so beautiful, so hot, so soft… Did I tell you how much I enjoyed it when you sucked me off?”

Sherlock smiled breathlessly. “You… You might have.”

John dipped his finger into Sherlock’s mouth, and Sherlock closed his lips around it, sucking it and probing it with his tongue. John groaned. His pupils were large, his eyes dark with desire.

“Oh, the things I want to do with you, Sherlock.” He took his finger out of Sherlock’s mouth, ignoring his wanting mewl, and stroked Sherlock’s lips with it. “How about…”

John took Sherlock’s hand, the one that had been lingering at the back of John’s head, and took the index finger in his mouth, sucking softly. Sherlock felt like he could almost come, completely untouched, from the hot, wet feeling of John’s lips around his finger, the suggestion of entering John’s mouth.

John hummed. “How about I take you into my mouth for a change?”

Sherlock could only smile and bite his lip in reply, barely holding back a moan at John’s words.

John lifted himself up and trailed kisses over Sherlock chest, pausing at his nipples to whirl his tongue around them, and moved further downwards, ignoring Sherlock’s chest bucking up to meet his mouth.

Oh, God. This was really happening.

John raised himself on his knees as he unbuckled and unzipped Sherlock’s trousers, moving both his thumbs inside to stroke Sherlock’s erection through his pants. Sherlock’s breath hitched at the feeling. More, he wanted more. John looked up at Sherlock and smiled.

“John–” Sherlock reached his hands out and stroked John’s cheeks, “–hang on, I want you closer, I mean, I want you to… To do whatever it is you want to do–” he smiled, a bit insecure, “–but I want to kiss you all at the same time.”

John chuckled. “Hardly possible, considering where I’m going to put my mouth.”

Sherlock realised what he’d just said, and burst out a giggle. “Unbelievable. My usual filter for inconsistent nonsense seems to have disappeared completely. I blame you.” He looked down fondly at John, and raised his eyebrows. “Or, alternatively, this could very well be how quantum entanglement was invented.”

John snorted in laughter and moved up along Sherlock’s body, kissing him on the mouth. When he pulled back, the smile on his face had made way for a look of heat and urgency. “How about you sit up.” He slid down from the couch and sat down on the floor. “And I’ll make myself comfortable here.” He unbuckled his own trousers, and Sherlock gasped at the sight of John’s hand disappearing inside his own pants.

Sherlock turned to sit against the back of the couch and then slouched down a bit, so his hips were near the edge of the seat, his legs on either side of John. “Something like this?”

“Good.” John licked his lips. He freed Sherlock’s cock from his pants and carefully caressed the tip with his tongue to lap up the tiny bead of wetness that had formed there. “Oh, this is so good, Sherlock, this is–” and he didn’t let himself finish his sentence, instead sinking his mouth down on Sherlock’s cock.

Sherlock moaned loudly at the feeling of John’s mouth around him. Oh. It was a good thing the building was generally empty at this hour. John’s lips slid down around Sherlock’s erection, his tongue whirling around the head. Sherlock’s hips bucked when John sucked his cock further into his mouth, deeper than he’d have thought possible.

John’s moan vibrated in his throat, sending a quiver up all the way through Sherlock’s erection, settling in his bollocks. The movements of John’s shoulder were betraying what he was doing with his own cock.

“John, why don’t you–” Sherlock gasped as John sucked harder, “–why don’t you push your pants down a bit, I want to see you.”

John looked up at Sherlock with naked admiration. “If you wish.” He let go of Sherlock’s erection for a second, sliding his own trousers and pants off his hips, leaving them at his knees. John’s cock was hard and thick, standing up from a nest of coarse, dark blond hair. Sherlock’s cock throbbed at the sight of John wrapping his hand around himself.

Sherlock moved his upper body forward, grabbing John’s head with both hands and lifting him up to capture him in a hard, heated kiss. He tasted a hint of himself in John’s mouth as their tongues curled around each other. John pulled back and with a hint of a smile, sat back down on his haunches and grasped Sherlock’s cock in one hand, his other one still occupied with stroking himself.

As John took him in his mouth again, Sherlock’s hips started moving slowly with John’s mouth, almost involuntarily. He carded his fingers through John’s hair to follow the rhythmic movements of John’s head, so deliciously coupled with the motions of John’s tongue over his erection. Sherlock felt his breathing grow heavier, in concert with John, who was now moaning around Sherlock’s cock and moving his hand ever faster.

It was fantastic, brilliant, overwhelming, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Sherlock’s chest ached with the feeling of not being close enough to John, of not kissing John, of not being able to look him in the eye at that imminent point of sweet release. He lifted John’s head up with both hands and slid off the couch to sit down next to him on the floor, guiding John’s hand to his cock while wrapping his own hand around John’s erection.

“John,” Sherlock panted, “I’ve wanted this for so long, I love that we’re finally doing this. I want you to look at me.”

He was prepared to show himself at his most vulnerable, wanting to see that moment on John’s face as well. He stroked John’s cock, hard and slick with sweat and its own fluid, while John’s hand pumped around him in the same rhythm. Between laboured breaths, they pressed harsh kisses to each other’s mouths, pulling back to look at each other. Oh, it was a sight: John, with his glistening dark blue eyes, his mouth half open and breathing heavily, his eyes locked on Sherlock’s face.

John licked his lips and groaned, apparently unable to form any other words than “Oh, Sherl–” and with half of Sherlock’s name on his lips, his face tensed and his eyebrows shot upwards as he came in strong spurts of liquid, his mouth open and wet, and with two, three strokes, Sherlock finished as well, feeling his muscles contract as if all of his energy concentrated itself in his groin and behind his breastbone, a moan pushing itself outwards from his lungs as he felt thick ribbons pulse from his cock, feeling John’s eyes on his face and on his body, in a moment of beautiful, fierce intimacy.

As Sherlock struggled to catch his breath, he grabbed a discarded sweater from the couch for a rudimentary cleanup, while John folded his legs out from underneath him and collapsed against the side of the couch. They buttoned up their trousers with fumbling fingers.

“My God, Sherlock… That was amazing. Again.” John chuckled, almost giggled.

“Hm,” Sherlock hummed in contentment, wrapping his arms around John. They sat there, warm and comfortable against each other, until John let out a small laugh.

“I can’t believe we actually did that in your office.”

Sherlock chuckled. “Your fault for not coming home with me. Now that we’ve got this out of the way, how about we take a cab to my place. We can pick up your stuff on the way.”

“Mmm,” John hummed, slouching against Sherlock and kissing his neck. “Maybe later.”

Sherlock frowned, trying to follow John’s thoughts, but a sense of confusion enveloped him. Why was John so reluctant to come home with him? Didn’t he want to? Was this still only about the sex?

He pulled back a bit to look at John, and considered. On the surface, John looked perfectly serene, but there was still tension in his body: eyebrows marginally raised and pulled towards each other, shoulders slightly hunched. He should be one hundred percent ecstatic, high on oxytocin and adrenaline. Something was wrong. “You’re still worried,” he hypothesised.

Peculiar, because John’s earlier concerns – the things that happened with his ex-boyfriend, Mycroft’s threat – should be invalidated now.

“No, no, I’m just…” John pursed his lips, letting his eyes wander around the room in an obvious attempt to get his thoughts in order. “Hm.” He frowned. “Just not used to this anymore, you know? This was lovely. Really.” He pulled Sherlock against him and pressed a kiss into his hair. “Just… One step at a time. If that’s all right.”

Oh, no. Wouldn’t say he loved him, wouldn’t come home with him… Was John starting to pull away again, just when Sherlock had been quite sure everything was all right, just when they should have finally gotten their happy end?

Sherlock lowered his eyes. “I see,” he said curtly.

“Look, we’re fine,” John emphasised, his breath hot against the top of Sherlock’s head. “I need some time to get used to this, all right?”

Fuck. John needed time. Or, equivalent in most currently used paradigms, space. And Sherlock had read enough women’s magazines – research on differences between men’s and women’s reasoning patterns – to know that ‘needing space’ was only a gentle way of letting someone down. The rest of his words were obviously just padding. Bad news. Red flags. He’s just not that into you.

Of course this wasn’t going to work. Sherlock winced at his earlier – foolish – thoughts that he’d found someone who liked him.

He inhaled deeply and pulled back from John, drawing himself up to sit on the couch. “All right. If that’s what you want.”

John turned around to look up at Sherlock, and nodded. “Yeah. I’m just going to go home, all right? I mean, to my apartment here. And I’ll see you… Oh.” He rubbed his hand through his hair and made a face. “Fuck, I just realised my flight home is tomorrow. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do. Even if I move here at short notice, I’ll still need to get my things.” He sounded apologetic, worried, nervous perhaps.

Sherlock tried to pull his face into a smile and nodded. “Understandable. Let me know whatever you decide.” Letting John make a dignified exit was only the polite thing to do.

John pulled himself up on the couch next to Sherlock and put his hand on Sherlock’s cheek. “I'll see you soon, okay? Thanks for being so understanding.”

“Not at all, John.” Sherlock looked at his hands, avoiding John’s eyes.

John kissed him, softly, simply, sliding his hand from Sherlock’s cheek to cup the back of his neck. Sherlock hummed, holding himself back from kissing too eagerly. John’s lips were soft, warm, and Sherlock felt a little spark in his chest at the realisation that John’s taste was becoming familiar. It dissolved quickly into an uneasy feeling of an imminent ending.

He pulled back. “John. Go.” He cleared his throat. Better to rip the bandage off now. “It’s better if you go now.”

And John did, with a kiss, a smile, his coat in his hand, and Sherlock managed to keep some sort of smile on his face until the door closed.

 

With a jolt, Sherlock awoke on the couch in his office. He reached into his pocket for his phone. His shoulders were stiff. Four o’clock in the morning. The air was cold, the silence only broken by an almost unnoticeable buzz of the fluorescent tubes against the ceiling. Foolishly, he hadn’t wanted to leave his office, in the off chance John might change his mind and return. After John had left, he’d laid down on his couch to read a few academic papers, but apparently he’d fallen asleep after all.

With a groan, he stretched himself out and sat up, pulling his shoulders up and moving his head side to side to loosen his muscles. No use sleeping anymore. He’d try to get some work done, distract himself, because he didn’t know if or when John would return, and any activity would at least make that time appear shorter. He reached to the coffee table, pulling the top paper off a stack of unread articles, and lay back down on his back.

Later – hours? minutes? – there was a soft rap on his door, and before he could catch himself, Sherlock turned around towards the door and half sat up, in the off chance that it might be John.

“Yes?” His voice broke.

The door opened slightly. Not John. Molly’s small figure stood bashfully in the doorway. Sherlock scoffed and turned back around all the way towards the back of the couch, scowling and berating himself for not even being able to work out that it was her. He could have surely worked it out from the sound of her knuckles on the door, the way in which she turned the door handle, the time of day, whatever the indicators would have been for a correct deduction, but he hadn’t, because he was a bloody idiot, a fucking simpleton like the rest of them, and it was only for the best that John had left, because he would have left eventually anyway.

Molly’s mousy voice sounded behind his back. “Sherlock, are you all right?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. Obviously he was not all right. The concern in Molly’s voice was infuriating. Why she would pretend to care for Sherlock was beyond him.

“Sherlock? I brought you some tea. And I brought you one of Mrs Hudson’s blueberry scones. She left a plate in the coffee room. If you don’t like it, I’ll eat it. But I had two already, so I probably shouldn’t.”

Sherlock kept silent, his eyes closed. She shouldn’t, indeed. She had put on three pounds since she’d started dating Greg.

“Sherlock,” she said, more insistent now. “I need you. I just started reading Hofstadter and I know I should be able to grasp it, because your website said it was recommended for the absolute beginner, but I’m struggling with some parts, especially the ones about Gödel. Kept me up until three in the morning.”

Christ. The thought of entertaining and educating lesser minds generally disgusted Sherlock, but at least it was a better distraction than the paltry writings of his peers. With a sigh, he turned back around to Molly, threw the paper aside and sat up, nodding his head towards the seat on the couch next to him.

Molly sat down and showed him the ebook she’d been reading on her iPad, pointing towards the passage she’d been struggling with, and handed Sherlock a mug of hot tea. With half of his mind still on John, Sherlock absent-mindedly explained some parts of logic and philosophy that she hadn’t understood.

To his surprise, he felt his shoulders settle into a more relaxed position. He usually loathed teaching, but this wasn’t so bad. Even though he would never say it out loud, Sherlock commended Molly for her interest in logic and philosophy. She was really only a caretaker of hardware, after all, someone who dealt with practicalities such as planning and bandwidth and backup servers, with backup power and energy efficiency, with networks and firewalls and load balancing.

After Sherlock explained one of the particularly confusing scenes with Achilles and the tortoise, Molly fell silent, studying Sherlock’s face.

“Tell me what’s wrong.” There was a resolute tone in her voice.

“I–” Sherlock huffed in frustration. He blinked rapidly. “Nothing. What do you mean?”

“Is this about John?”

Sherlock’s eyes shot up to Molly’s face. “How did you know?” he blurted out before he could catch himself. “No, it isn’t,” he amended, hopelessly.

“Oh, Sherlock.” Molly tilted her head. “I see you, you know. You look smitten when you think he can’t see you.”

Sherlock frowned. “Oh.” He was surprised that it should be so clear, when he didn’t even fully understand himself. “Does everyone know?” He wouldn’t put it past regular people to notice useless details like this, instead of putting their minds to better use, studying the greater problems of the universe.

“I don’t know.” Molly shrugged. “I think John is oblivious, but I see him looking at you in the same way.”

“No, he knows.” He knows, and he left. Sherlock clenched his lips.

Molly narrowed her eyes. “But you’re here, and he’s not. And you’re sad.”

Trivial observations, but true. Sherlock swallowed. Incredibly, it had all taken place in the span of one evening and night: the argument, the discussion about emotions, the kissing, the incredible sex, John’s incomprehensible departure.

Oh, but maybe Molly could actually help. She got herself tangled up in awkward romantic situations all the time.

“I told him I loved him,” he confessed. “Last night. Didn’t work out so well.”

“Oh, dear. What happened?”

“He didn’t say it back. And then he left.” Sherlock lowered his eyes. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

Molly shook her head. “From the way he talks about you, from how he looks at you, he’s obviously interested, to say the least.”

“I think I did it wrong.” Sherlock winced. “He said he needed time. Obviously just a way to avoid telling me that he doesn't want to be with me. I didn’t follow the rules. I pursued him, I should have let him pursue me. I was too eager. He’s just not that into me.”

Molly scoffed. “The rules? Sherlock, have you been reading women’s magazines?”

“Obviously. I assume you read them all the time.”

She chuckled. “Even I know that women’s magazines are not the best place for relationship advice, Sherlock.”

“Then what?” He rolled his eyes. “I can hardly go around asking him why he doesn't want to be with me, can I?” This wasn’t helping. He started to get up, but Molly put her hand on his arm and looked at him intensely.

“You know about me and Greg, don’t you?”

Sherlock scoffed, settling back onto the couch. “Of course.” His mind was still set on leaving, but at least Molly’s problems would distract him from his own. He’d never admit it out loud, but the oddities of sentiment and the human condition intrigued him to no end.

Molly sighed. “I just mean to say it’s not all as easy as in the movies. The reality of relationships, I mean. It’s not like you meet, fall in love, live happily ever after.”

“Doesn’t seem worth it. I can’t believe I forgot why I usually abstain from such–” he spat out the words “–vulgar emotions.”

“Look, Sherlock, give him some credit. Yourself, too. It’s not that easy to open up to love, to put yourself out there like that. To be vulnerable. It’s scary.” She nodded. “It’s the same for me. Even though Greg says he’s had a crush on me for years.” Her mouth curved into a careful smile. “I never dared to believe it.”

Sherlock couldn’t choke back a snort of amusement. “Really?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Any idiot could have seen it.”

She chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Any idiot? Thanks, Sherlock.” Her smile disappeared. “I’m constantly afraid that he’ll go back to his wife, though. He says he won’t, but they’ve been split up before and he’s gone back to her every time.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “How long have they been broken up this time?”

“About three months. He’s just found a place of his own.”

“And during those previous breakups between Greg and his wife, the two of you have…?” Sherlock let his voice trail off.

“No.” She blushed. “Well, almost, lots of times. But we’d never even kissed before. Not until the conference. But still, I don’t know… I guess I might’ve just been broken up with one time too many.”

Sherlock scoffed. This was almost too easy. “You’re fine, Molly. Also, you’re blind.”

“What?” she asked, frowning.

Sherlock inhaled deeply. Trivial drivel, this. He’d have to spell out the whole thing for her.

“They’ve never been split up this long,” he observed. “Statistically, the chances of him going back to his wife are diminishing by the second. The fact that he’s allowed something to happen between the two of you is a positive indicator of the authenticity of the breakup. Then, there’s the fact that he has his own place now. A definite signal that he’s moving on for real. If he’s moved out his books and records, even stronger. It would be clear to even the smallest of minds.” He looked at Molly in anticipation.

“Really, you think so?” Her face creased into a broken smile. It made Sherlock almost feel sorry for the insult that had automatically slipped out at the end of his deduction.

“Obviously.” He frowned. It really should have been obvious, even to her.

He narrowed his eyes. Something was dawning at the edge of his mind. Molly wasn’t stupid, but she hadn’t been able to see the clear signs of Greg’s feelings for her. She was smart, and she was generally quite rational. Broken up with one time too many, she’d said… It must have been her insecurities clouding her mind, insecurities stemming from her personal history, that made her scared and sabotaged any rational approach to her relationship with Greg.

“Oh,” Molly interrupted his thoughts, “but you’re helping me now, and I was supposed to be helping you. Sorry.”

Sherlock blinked rapidly. “Molly. You are helping me.” What if he and John were both affected by their own insecurities, both afraid to be vulnerable? It would make sense, considering their histories: John, broken up with under terrible, traumatising circumstances; Sherlock, disliked and distrusted by practically everyone he’d met.

Maybe they were both scared. In similar ways. Just expressing it quite differently.

The awareness triggered a spark of hope somewhere in his chest. Maybe John really did need time. Maybe John would learn to tell Sherlock he loved him. Maybe all was not lost.

“Commitment phobia,” he hypothesised. “On his side, that is. I’ve seen it before in other people, but I’ve never had to solve it. What do I do?” He felt nervous, all of a sudden.

Molly let out a surprised laugh. “Well. If I knew that, I’d be happily married by now instead of having this constant struggle with myself.” She chuckled. “And I’d have been a self-help book millionaire.”

“Hm,” Sherlock grumped. That didn’t help much.

She shrugged. “I guess the only thing you can do is give him love, but let him have his space if he needs it.”

Sherlock felt his mouth turn into a wry smile. “I thought giving someone space meant letting them go.”

“No, no. Well, not necessarily. If it were me…” She frowned in thought. “He probably needs to build up some sort of confidence that he won’t be let down. And that takes time, and support.” She considered for a moment. “Why don’t you text him? Let him know you’re thinking of him. Just don’t make demands. Let him make his own decisions.”

Sherlock steepled his fingers against his lips. Time. Support. It was worth a try. Now that he was starting to regain a bit of confidence in John’s feelings for him, he’d rather take a cab straight to John’s apartment, but Molly had a point. A direct approach would probably just make John anxious.

He fished his phone out of his pocket to compose a short text. Casual. No expectations. No demands.

Last night was lovely. -SH

He sent the text and took a deep breath. There was so much more he wanted to say. He started typing.

Thinking of you. I love you. Please c

Oh, this was more difficult than he expected. He backspaced.

Thinking of you. I love you. I’ll be here. -SH

He showed his phone to Molly, who nodded. With an unexpected nervousness, he pressed ‘send’. Now hoping was all he could do.

Chapter Text

John was packing his suitcase when his phone beeped.

Last night was lovely. -SH

He smiled, but then felt an involuntary frown take over his face. Yes. It had been lovely. And then he’d gotten nervous and he’d left, and he had disappointed Sherlock, and now he was even more nervous that he’d ruined everything. He sat down on his bed, inhaling deeply, trying to get his thoughts in order for the thousandth time since he’d returned to this drab apartment. He wanted Sherlock. More than anything. But it terrified him, exactly for that reason.

Damn his fear.

He couldn’t shake off this grotesque urge to sabotage things before they’d even started. His mind kept feeding him lines: it’s going to end anyway, there’s always some sort of crisis, everything has always ended before, there isn’t any evidence that this will be different, it would be wiser to save you both the trouble and the inevitable hurt.

John shook his head and scoffed at himself.

Last night, when he’d gone home, he had tried to pretend everything was all right. But then he’d lain awake all night with Sherlock’s forlorn and defeated expression fixed in his mind’s eye. John’s fault, of course, for not managing to say or do the right things.

Less than a minute later, another text:

Thinking of you. I love you. I’ll be here. -SH

John bit his lip at the idea of Sherlock thinking about him, about them. It had been lovely. It had been particularly lovely to taste Sherlock’s body, to take Sherlock’s erection in his mouth and in his hand, to see him come. The memory tugged at something in his chest, something aching and wistful, and it made him wish that everything was uncomplicated.

He hadn’t yet figured out what to do: take a cab straight back to Sherlock and never leave, stay here and find his own place, return to Kabul permanently, enquire after jobs here, go back to Kabul only to fetch his things…

Christ. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind, and got up from the bed. All those hours of pondering hadn’t helped to get his mind in order. He could hardly admit the strength of his own feelings for Sherlock yet, and the quick change in the situation left an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. So many ways this could go wrong. His supposedly unrequited crush on Sherlock had been sad, but safe. Going back as he’d planned and settling back into his familiar, detached life in Kabul seemed so much less frightening. At this point, going back to Kabul and ignoring all the rest until they got news about the grant proposal seemed the most appealing option.

Before he’d managed to decide anything, the doorbell rang.

A woman in a black dress was waiting outside in the pale morning sun. She didn’t look at John when he opened the door, instead continuing to tap the small keys of her Blackberry. Right. Anthea. The assistant to the mysterious man he now knew was Sherlock’s brother.

“Hello,” John said. “Let me guess, another mysterious meeting in a parking garage?” He couldn’t suppress a hint of surprise and mild amusement in his voice.

She didn’t look up. “More or less. Please, your car is waiting.”

“Look, I have a…” He winced. “I may have a flight to catch in a few hours.”

She raised an eyebrow, her gaze still fixed on her phone. “Your things will be collected after you.” She turned around and walked towards the car idling on the curb. It looked much too shiny and expensive to belong to someone who was, John remembered, employed by the European Research Council.

Well. He had wanted to speak to Sherlock’s brother again anyway. He was still curious about why Mycroft had threatened him, why he was so intent on making his brother’s life miserable. He hardly needed more family drama added to his own dysfunctional family.

Fifteen minutes later, Anthea led him through a seemingly abandoned building into a room with smooth, white walls, containing only a table with one chair on either side, one occupied by a man in an old-fashioned, but impeccable suit. The only wall decoration was a large mirror on the left hand side of the room.

“And so, we meet again.” Mycroft folded his hands on the white tabletop. “Doctor Watson–”

“Please,” John interrupted, “do call me John.” He shook his head, refusing to sit down. “Look, I’m tired, which makes me irritable, which makes me not in the mood for these ridiculous games. Maybe you like to play James Bond or whatever it is this reminds you of, but I don’t particularly care for these antics.” He inhaled sharply through his nose. “Now get this over with, I have a flight to catch.” Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. He wasn’t ready to abandon any of his options yet.

Mycroft didn’t seem to be affected by John’s words. He nodded politely, the smirk not leaving his face. “It does seem like a good idea to be on a first name basis, considering the kind of–” a slight pause, “–activities in which you and my brother have engaged so recently.” He raised himself marginally from his chair and held out his hand. “Mycroft Holmes. Pleased to meet you.”

John kept his hands clasped behind his back, only raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips. “Excuse me? Activities?” He felt his face heat up at the memory of his lips around Sherlock’s cock, only hours ago, and hoped Mycroft wouldn’t notice the blush that was surely spreading over his cheeks. “What has he told you?”

Mycroft just smiled. “John.” He savoured the word, as if he was rolling it over his tongue and checking for any imperfections. “It appears you may have misunderstood my earlier intentions.”

John shook his head tensely. “No, I think everything was perfectly clear. I ruined a colleague’s career earlier, you don’t want that to happen to your–” he shook his head, frowning, “–to your brother.” He was still wrapping his head around the fact that Sherlock and this peculiar man were related.

“Correct. And that means?” Mycroft smiled encouragingly, not unlike a grade school teacher to a particularly slow student.

“I’m done playing your petty games.”

“John.” The smile disappeared from Mycroft’s lips. “Answer the question.”

John rolled his eyes. “That means I should avoid falling in love with him. Which I haven’t managed to do, but we’re both grown-up men and I don’t care for being threatened by the brother of the man I’m in love with.”

Oh. That had just slipped out. Despite the tension of the situation, John had to bite his lip to avoid a smile appearing on his face. Oops. He’d just said that out loud for the very first time. Didn’t feel so terrible, actually.

Mycroft sighed. “Oh, John. You seem uncommonly dim for someone of your superior intellect. Not unlike my brother.” He raised his eyebrows. “I suppose the two of you really are an excellent match for each other.”

John inhaled deeply, feeling his muscles tense almost subconsciously. “Look. I’m not sure what you’re on about, but I will not let you insult me while I’ve done nothing wrong to you.”

“I haven’t been wronged here, no. But as I said, I do look out for my little brother.”

“I shouldn’t have fallen in love with him? Look, I’m sorry if–”

“John,” Mycroft interrupted. “I beg you to refrain from making incorrect deductions. Let me explain. More clearly than I had thought necessary.”

John inhaled sharply through his nose and nodded curtly. He’d ride this out, this ridiculous power play, and then hopefully he’d be done with it once and for all.

Mycroft continued. “You are perfectly welcome to have a relationship with my brother. I will help you smooth out any challenges on the way. I have seen your work, which is excellent, and will be happy to write a letter of recommendation for you to the board of Saint Bartholomew, regardless of what happens with your grant proposal.”

Oh.

John realised his mouth had fallen open, and shut it with a snap. He narrowed his eyes. “But you said earlier…” He hesitated, unable to remember Mycroft’s exact wording.

“I said earlier that I’d do anything to prevent my brother’s relationship leading to a forced retirement. Until he reaches the legal age to be promoted to a Professor Emeritus position, that is. Lord knows there are plenty of professors who refuse to give up their…” Mycroft trailed off when he caught John’s expression. “But that’s irrelevant for now.”

Something warm started blooming in John’s chest. “You’re not…” He couldn’t seem to find the right words. “But I thought there would…” He swallowed. “That’s really kind.” He felt unreasonably proud that he’d managed to struggle all the way to the end of a full sentence, albeit a short one.

“Happy to help. I–” Mycroft inhaled deeply. “Don’t tell him I said this, but I know how it feels to try opening up after a traumatic experience.”

John raised his eyebrows. “What?” For some reason, he couldn’t picture Mycroft having, well, any human experience, really.

“Sentiment makes one vulnerable. I’ve chosen to abstain from it completely. It is easier to refrain from relationships altogether, but I wouldn’t expect you to shy away from a challenge, Doctor Watson– John.”

“A challenge?”

“You may be hurt. But on the other hand, the outcome may be better than you’d expected.” Mycroft cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose you’re an expert on game theory?”

“Game theory?” John considered. He’d heard about it before, but couldn’t remember the particulars. “Not really.”

“Your situation is not unlike the prisoner’s dilemma. Two players, you and my brother. The preferred outcome is that you both admit your love to each other. However, you’ve no control over what he says and wants. So if you admit to loving him and he leaves you, you’ll be hurt much more than if you don’t let yourself be hurt by refraining from wanting a relationship altogether.”

John scoffed. He’d only followed half of what Mycroft had just said. “You really think just like him, don’t you? Trying to explain everything with science and logic. Real life doesn’t work that way.”

“Listen to me, John. If you had no knowledge of his intentions, there would be no fixed optimum strategy. But if I’m not mistaken, he has confessed his love to you.”

“He has.” John frowned. “I don’t see what that has to do with this strange–” he waved his hand, “–prisoner’s game of yours.”

“Prisoner’s dilemma.” Mycroft tilted his head. “Don’t worry. I get that you’re more of a hardware man. Let him explain it to you, he’s more patient. My point is, you don’t have to grope around in the dark for a strategy, because you’ve got the information you need. There is a winning strategy here, John.”

John was still only halfway through wrapping his brain around what Mycroft had just said. He hesitated. “Because he said that he loves me?” he tried.

Mycroft nodded. “He loves you. You’ve got complete information about his desires. It’s your choice now: love him back, or leave. Even without any knowledge of game theory, I trust that you can identify the winning strategy.”

Mycroft did have a point. If this was really, in fact, John’s choice… John raised his eyebrows and inhaled deeply. The air felt lighter than it should, uncommonly crisp, like the feeling of a pair of new jeans or freshly washed bed linen. He felt like he was able to breathe for the first time that day.

Mycroft’s smile almost looked kind. “My brother hasn’t managed to completely scare you off, then?”

“God, no.” John frowned. “I just hope he’s still… Look, I just get nervous about these things, that’s all.” He suddenly felt the urge to go back to Sherlock, look him in the eye, touch his skin, kiss him, tell him everything’s all right. His eyes flitted back and forth from Mycroft to the door. “I don’t suppose I could…”

“Of course you could.” He tilted his head slightly to the side, looking over his shoulder to the mirror on the wall. “Anthea?” he said with a slightly raised voice. “You’ll take Doctor Watson to see my brother.”

Anthea entered through a side door John hadn’t noticed before. That mirror might be a one-way mirror, John realised. Creepy. He didn’t even want to think about how Mycroft knew what he’d been up to with Sherlock – or how much of it he knew. John winced at the thought. Never mind that for now.

All through the ride, John fidgeted with his phone, straightened the cuffs of his shirt, worried at his nails. Fuck. He thought he had failed last night by kissing Sherlock, and then he had failed again by leaving, and he could only hope that two failures would equal one success, like two negative numbers multiplying to a positive.

“Are you all right?” Anthea tried, and it took John a few seconds to realise she’d said something.

John regarded her from the corner of his eye. “So you do talk, then?” he asked, unable to keep a mocking tone from his voice.

“Oh, yeah. Lots.” The sarcasm in Anthea’s tone surpassed John’s mockery by about a mile, and he couldn’t stop himself from breaking out into a small smile, and then a small giggle, and if he wasn’t mistaken, he could hear a slight snort from Anthea next to him.

Jesus. He was going to have to get used to some strange people around him, if he and Sherlock were going to be together. He could only imagine the Christmas dinners.

Oh. His jaw clenched. Christmas dinners, family, commitments, fights, people having opinions about him, about their relationship. Things like that still made him nervous.

Breathe in, breathe out. Forget the Christmas dinners. One day at a time.

When the car pulled up next to St Barts, John nodded to Anthea and muttered a small “thanks” before bouncing out of the car. Sherlock would have no idea John was coming, Mycroft had promised him, but he had contacted Molly to ensure that Sherlock would be kept in his office.

John’s throat tensed up when he peeked around the door opening and saw Sherlock sitting there, hunched over his laptop on the couch, his hair sticking out on all sides, a half-eaten scone on top of his rumpled suit jacket on the coffee table.

He knocked on the door frame.

Sherlock looked up, his eyes dim at first, but widening when they set on John. “Oh.” He sounded breathless. “You’re back.” His voice broke on the last syllable.

“Can I… Can I come in?” John felt suddenly nervous. Sherlock didn’t look happy at his return. Was it too late?

Sherlock nodded. His eyes were bleary, worried, anxious.

John felt his own mouth mirror Sherlock’s pained smile. “I’m… I’m sorry for leaving. I got scared.”

“I thought you might have left. I mean, left the country.” Sherlock swallowed. “Which you still can, if you want to.”

John shook his head. “I don’t. I mean, not really. Not right now. But I really… I–” he hesitated, stuttered, stumbled over his words, “–I really like you.” He winced. Inadequate, still. “I want to be with you. I want to try.” He emphasised his last words, hoping, wishing, for them to be enough.

“You…” Sherlock’s smile shifted into something more genuine. “You do?”

“Look, I’ll probably still fuck things up from time to time. But I’m going to try to talk more instead of just running off. If that’s all right?”

Sherlock nodded and got up from the couch. His back looked stiff, his body much less nimble than before. Had he slept here, on that awful, threadbare couch? “It is.” He stepped toward John, still a hint of hesitation in his body.

John wanted nothing more than to kiss him, but the guarded look from earlier hadn’t completely disappeared from Sherlock’s face.

“Oh, fuck, Sherlock, I’m so sorry. What can I do to make you trust me?”

“I don’t know.” Sherlock made a face. “I honestly don’t. I don’t generally trust people.”

John winced and shook his head. “Neither do I, apparently. Not even myself. Could you… Christ, Sherlock, I’m an idiot.”

“You are.” Sherlock smiled. There was a fondness in his voice.

John scoffed. “So are you. Oh, but it might help if you explain game theory to me, though.”

“Well, well. A sudden interest in mathematical economics? From a roboticist?” There was a glint in Sherlock’s eye.

John felt the corners of his mouth tug upwards. “Oh, shut up.”

Sherlock chuckled. “Like I ever will.”

“Please,” John moved closer to Sherlock, “never shut up.”

Sherlock’s hands cupped John’s face, and all the air was expelled from his lungs at Sherlock’s soft, warm touch, and he leaned up and pressed his lips to Sherlock’s. Sherlock’s mouth eagerly met John’s, their lips sliding over each other. The low sounds that escaped Sherlock’s throat sounded like something between hums of contentment and the softest beginning of moans.

John let his hands roam over Sherlock’s face and through his hair. He wanted nothing more than protect this man, care for him, make him forget all the bad things that ever happened to him.

But, wait, why would Sherlock trust him now? Shouldn’t he explain himself more?

He pulled back. “Sherlock, shouldn’t I–”

“Commitment phobia,” Sherlock interrupted. He kissed John’s neck.

“What?” John pursed his lips, and considered – or rather, tried to consider Sherlock’s words, but his mind was momentarily occupied with the feeling of Sherlock’s lips on – oh God, and teeth, softly – on his neck.

“Think later, John,” Sherlock murmured against John’s collarbone. “We’ll talk later.”

John pulled back, grasped Sherlock’s head with both hands and moved it back to look into Sherlock’s eyes.

“Sherlock.” Yes. He was doing this. “Take me home with you.”

Minutes later, John was unsteady on his feet, standing on the pavement outside Barts. Sherlock had emphasised, twice, that he’d be free to leave any moment he wanted, of course. No expectations. John felt free, unburdened.

As a cab pulled up, Sherlock grabbed John by the sleeve to push him into the back seat, entering the cab after him, gave his address to the driver, and in one smooth movement, moved his hands to cup John’s jaw and kiss him.

John’s hands traveled over Sherlock’s neck and through his hair before settling on his torso under his big dark coat. He pulled his mouth away from Sherlock’s lips, just because he wanted to look at him for a second, drawing a wanting whine from Sherlock’s throat. God, his mouth, still wet and half open, looked so bloody delightful.

This was happening. This was really happening. John took a deep breath. All right. Here goes.

“Sherlock, I… I think I’m in love with you.” He felt nervous and inebriated with the feeling of having Sherlock near him, being able to say such things. He caressed Sherlock’s face with his fingers, trying to take everything in at once: Sherlock’s bright eyes glistening, his soft lips drawing into a wide smile, sharp cheekbones, beauty.

Sherlock took John’s head in his large hands and pulled him back towards him for a kiss, a soft gasp slipping from the back of his throat. Sherlock’s smile was tangible under John’s lips.

John opened his mouth, letting his tongue wander softly against Sherlock’s mouth before Sherlock opened his lips to let him in. The texture of Sherlock’s tongue against his own drew an involuntary groan from John’s mouth, and a half-pronounced murmur of Sherlock’s name. John let himself enjoy the sensation of the inside of Sherlock’s mouth for a few lazy seconds before gently pulling at Sherlock’s bottom lip with his teeth. Sherlock moaned, and John felt his erection grow hard against the inside of his jeans.

“You’re delicious. I can’t wait to get home with you and taste you all over,” he groaned.

“John, I want…” Sherlock’s voice turned into a gasp when John’s lips traveled over his jaw to his ear.

“Hm?” John murmured teasingly against the skin of Sherlock’s neck. “What do you want, love?”

“I want everything, John.” Sherlock’s voice was low and silky. “I want you inside of me.”

John sighed hard, biting back a moan. “There’s nothing I’d rather do.” Oh, it had to be soon, or they’d get right to fucking in the back of this bloody cab.

When the cab stopped, Sherlock inhaled, looked at John with glittering eyes and climbed out of the cab, throwing some cash at the cab driver. While John was still getting out of the backseat, Sherlock was already dashing up the steps to his front door and unlocking the door with an unexpected agility. How he had any coordination at all baffled John, whose legs felt like jelly, his hands helpless for any practical tasks save for touching Sherlock.

Once inside, Sherlock ran up the flight of stairs two steps at once and opened a wooden door. John followed a bit more slowly, but not at all hesitant. The eagerness from the cab had been replaced with a determination, a sureness that it was going to happen, that he was going to hold Sherlock in his hands and make love to him.

So when John closed the door of Sherlock’s apartment behind them, and found Sherlock standing aimlessly in the middle of the living room, he didn’t rush over to him, but instead, walked up and put his hands on Sherlock’s face, savouring the feel of Sherlock’s warm skin, his sharp jaw, and the hard exhale that escaped from his throat at John’s touch.

John pushed Sherlock’s coat off of his shoulders and then shrugged out of his own, letting them both fall to the floor.

“How about we find your bedroom then?” John asked, while he followed the path of his hands with his mouth, softly kissing along Sherlock’s jaw to the soft skin behind his ear.

It took Sherlock a few seconds to react, but then he wordlessly took John’s hand and led him through the kitchen and a short hallway to his bedroom. When Sherlock turned around, John saw the intensity in his eyes, a wantonness, and the start of a confidence that hadn’t been there before. It was intoxicating.

John took Sherlock’s head in his hands, looking into his glowing opal eyes. “Can I undress you?”

He drew in for a kiss, letting his hands wander all the way down Sherlock’s back to his arse, kneading his buttocks through Sherlock’s smooth trousers. Sherlock’s breath hitched at John’s touch and he drew back, breathing hard against John’s mouth.

“God, Sherlock, I want to do everything with you, I can’t wait to explore your body, taste you all over, but you’ll have to tell me if I do anything you don’t like.”

“Yes,” Sherlock answered, his voice low and crooning. “Do I have to repeat myself? I already told you in the cab, John. I want you inside me.”

John laughed in amazement. “You’re unbelievable.” He wanted nothing more than to feel Sherlock’s skin under his hands, to take his time caressing him, making him feel loved. He kissed Sherlock, more fiercely now, a half coordinated sliding together of tongues and lips and teeth.

John made a feeble attempt at unbuttoning Sherlock’s shirt before Sherlock apparently felt that it was not going fast enough, covering John’s hands with his own larger ones and moving ahead of him, unbuttoning his shirt and cuffs and sliding it off his shoulders, before moving on to the buttons of John’s shirt. John slid his hands over Sherlock’s chest and tenderly moved his thumbs over Sherlock’s nipples, feeling the little nubs that were hard already. When Sherlock pulled John’s shirt off of his shoulders, the feeling of their bare chests against each other was soft, warm, and not nearly enough. Sherlock moaned under John’s hands, making John feel heady, overcome with a need to touch and caress and rub and taste and thrust and–

John’s thoughts ground to a halt when Sherlock’s fingers found a way inside John’s trousers – damn those deft fingers again, John vaguely reflected – and onto John’s heated erection, stroking the hard flesh with his soft hands.

John let his head drop back and suppressed the urge to again tell Sherlock that he was unbelievable, because he was, oh, unlike anyone John had been with before. Sherlock’s disorienting shift from insecurity to audaciousness was enough to make any man crazy with confusion. The warmth that had pooled deep in John’s chest during their kiss had spread down to his groin, flushing his body with a tingling tension, like a geyser drawing itself in as a backswing to its inevitable expulsion.

“God, Sherlock, I can’t wait to be inside you,” John growled.

Sherlock didn’t reply, but only pulled his hand out of John’s trousers. John felt a soft mewl escape his throat, which made him feel almost embarrassed, except for the distraction of Sherlock sliding his own trousers and pants off in one smooth movement. His erection stood up proudly from a modest nest of dark curled hair, making John’s mouth water.

“Thought I’d make it easier for you,” Sherlock said with a sly smile, sitting down on the bed and pulling John down with him. He pushed John to the side and swung a muscular leg over him, but before he could move his mouth to John’s, John deftly flipped Sherlock on his back, bracing himself on his hands and knees above him.

“You thought you’d take the lead, then?” John asked. He grinned at Sherlock, who looked as if he was trying to shoot a mocking glare at John, but instead coming out as eager and wanton.

“Since you have already told me what you–” John placed a finger on Sherlock’s lips when Sherlock tried to interrupt him, “–yes, all right, since you’ve told me twice, and I don’t intend to let you tell me again, so shut up – I think I’m well equipped to handle the–”

“You certainly are,” Sherlock crooned, despite John’s silencing finger on his lips.

John frowned. “What?”

“Well equipped.”

After a moment’s silence, John cracked up, snorting in laughter, and Sherlock joined him with his low, throaty laugh, and then John couldn’t stop giggling. He buried his face in Sherlock’s neck, and the feeling of Sherlock’s shoulder shaking with laughter made him giggle even harder, until Sherlock’s hands found his backside, kneading his arse, and then moving to the front of his jeans to unfasten them.

“Right, where were we,” John murmured against Sherlock’s shoulder, a smile unable to leave his face. He sat back, freeing himself of his trousers and pants, before bending back over Sherlock, who was still lying there with wonder in his eyes. John lifted his head to catch Sherlock’s lips in a kiss, fluttering his tongue against the little curve in Sherlock’s upper lip before moving his body downwards to nip at Sherlock’s neck. Moving further down, he flicked his tongue against Sherlock’s nipple, making Sherlock inhale sharply.

“Oh, do that again,” Sherlock breathed against the crown of John’s head. John gladly obliged, meanwhile letting his hands wander further downwards, first to cup Sherlock’s firm arse and then moving to his front to lightly stroke along his erection. Sherlock gasped.

“Mmm, there are so many things I want to do with you,” John murmured. He kissed his way down Sherlock’s smooth chest and belly and then licked a stripe up Sherlock’s cock, pausing at the top to swirl his tongue around the head, tasting the tiny bead of wetness that had gathered there. He hummed in contentment, in tandem with Sherlock’s significantly more heated groan that vibrated through his whole body.

But he had made a promise to Sherlock, and so he thoroughly wet his index finger between his lips and moved his hand down, lightly stroking over Sherlock’s bollocks and moving further down – a moan sounded from Sherlock’s chest – and between his arse cheeks. Sherlock moved one of his knees up, planting his foot next to John’s chest and slightly lifting up his arse.

John kept his tongue softly, slowly working around the head of Sherlock’s cock while his other hand sought out the pucker of Sherlock’s arse. Even if he hadn't felt it, Sherlock’s gasp would have been enough of a hint to signal that he was at the right spot. He let his wet finger stroke around and across the hole, his lips meanwhile not leaving Sherlock's erection.

He felt Sherlock’s body stretch out and heard a soft rumbling and cluttering and then a cap opening, and then Sherlock's hand joined his own, slick with lube.

“Mmm, that's good,” John said, his voice more raspy than he'd imagined.

“I still want you to do the honours,” Sherlock breathed, “but I figured I'd supply some additional provisions.”

John let his fingers, now slick with lube, rub over Sherlock's hole before carefully pushing one inside. He gasped at Sherlock’s heat surrounding him and the simultaneous feeling of Sherlock’s cock twitching in his mouth.

He pulled back slightly. “Okay?”

“God, John, more than okay. More would be even more okay.”

“Mmm, patience, love.” John folded his lips around Sherlock’s cock again and sucked just a tiny bit harder, smiling around the hard flesh when he heard the ensuing gasp from up above his head.

John moved his finger inside Sherlock, slowly at first and then working up the pace until he felt the ring of muscle relax completely, and then pulled back before entering with two fingers. He kept lazily lapping at Sherlock's erection, just enough to keep him sufficiently aroused but not much closer to orgasm, while Sherlock's fingers tangled in his hair.

When Sherlock gasped for more, John added a third finger, marvelling at the sensation of Sherlock's tight hole yielding for him, and getting more and more aroused at the prospect of filling that hole with his cock.

When he was sure that Sherlock was sufficiently stretched, and he simply couldn't wait anymore, he carefully slid his fingers out – he smiled at Sherlock's wanting mewl – and moved up Sherlock's body to kiss him. The sight of Sherlock's face, sweaty, desperate, debauched, his mouth open and panting, made his cock ache harder than ever.

Sherlock moaned into John’s mouth before pulling back. “John, hang on.” He had already pulled a condom out of its package, and it took him about two seconds to work the material over John’s cock, which pulsed hotly at the touch of Sherlock’s agile fingers.

“Are you ready, love?” John asked.

“Just fuck me already,” Sherlock growled.

John didn't let himself be told twice – not this time, anyway – and pulled one of Sherlock's legs up over his shoulder, planting Sherlock's other foot up on the mattress, and carefully positioned himself against Sherlock's opening, now wet and soft from the ample preparation. Slowly pushing forward, he felt a jolt of pleasure when the ring of muscle yielded to him, engulfing him in a tight, wet heat.

They moaned in unison, catching each other's eyes and crushing their mouths together in a sloppy, barely coordinated kiss. Sherlock moved his hands to John’s arse, pulling him further in. John gasped for air at the sensation of Sherlock all around him, Sherlock’s arse around his cock, Sherlock’s legs around his body, Sherlock’s mouth around John’s tongue.

They moved together, the pressure in John’s gut building up with each thrust into Sherlock. God, it was unbelievable, wasn't it, he was fucking the most brilliant man of at least the northern hemisphere, he was seeing Sherlock unravel under his hands, giving himself to John completely.

“Christ, Sherlock,” John panted, “I’d love to see you touch yourself.”

Sherlock bit his lip and took the hint, moving one of his hands from John’s arse to his own cock, which was already slick with sweat and lubricant and John’s saliva and its own wetness, and slowly started stroking himself. He gasped, his eyebrows knitting up into a look of desperation.

“Oh, fuck–” his voice broke on the last vowel, “–John, I want to, but I'm not sure I can hold on much longer.”

“It's all right, love. I’d like nothing more than see you come underneath me.” John punctuated his words with a few well-timed thrusts, causing Sherlock to moan loudly. And this would most definitely not be the last time they’d do this, John realised, and he felt a bright smile take over his face at the thought that he could savour Sherlock all the time from now on, every day, in every way, from completely debauched in bed to bright and crisp at the breakfast table, from grumpy moods to tender smiles.

He was distracted by a moan from Sherlock, who was stroking himself in earnest now. The sight of his hand moving swiftly over his cock and the slick sounds of it, together with their moans and gasps and the sounds of John’s pelvis slamming up to Sherlock’s arse, were almost enough to do John in completely. Sherlock’s laboured breaths grew louder, his hand moving faster, while John relentlessly thrust inside him.

“John… I’m about to–” and before Sherlock could finish, John thrust inside him deeply, and with a low groan, Sherlock spilled over his own hand and his smooth chest, and the feeling of Sherlock contracting around him was enough to make John come too, with a loud grunt and a feeling of hotness and release stronger than ever before.

Sherlock smiled as he caught his breath, reaching out to pull John in for a tender kiss.

John carefully pulled out of Sherlock, holding the edge of the condom, and collapsed onto Sherlock’s side. He couldn’t stop smiling.

“Oh. Jesus. Sherlock,” John managed to stammer. “That. Was amazing.”

Sherlock only smiled fondly, his mouth open and his eyes soft and lighter blue than John had ever seen them before. John marvelled at Sherlock’s body, the sharpness of his bones and tendons emphasized by the thin sheen of sweat on his skin, reflecting the soft light.

“It’s strange, I can’t figure out what colour your eyes are,” he said softly.

Sherlock snorted. “I’d been afraid to sound like a sixteen-year-old who writes poetry, but I see that’s not off-limits in the bedroom.” He looked like he was trying to go for a mocking expression, but the softness in his eyes and mouth betrayed a tenderness underneath.

 

The next morning, John woke up pressed against Sherlock’s back. It was warm, and soft, and not nearly as scary as he thought it would be. He tried mentally poking at his insecurities a bit. Oh, there was still a good amount of hurt there, but it didn’t feel dangerous anymore. John was vaguely reminded of that time he’d broken his arm as a teenager. It had seemed like ages before they’d taken the cast off, and it was a strange feeling when he was finally allowed to use his arm again, even supposed to use it again. There was still a stiffness and a dull ache, but it was nothing like the real pain from before. Rehabilitation.

He let his fingertips trail over Sherlock’s skin, which was incredibly soft and in some places a bit sticky with sweat or some small specks of semen they hadn’t properly cleaned off.

This was it. This could be their life from now on. John exhaled deeply through pursed lips. Was it really, though? Wasn’t there some small, unforeseen way in which they could still–

Sherlock stirred again and turned around, slowly half-opening his eyes, murmuring and sighing something softly against John’s cheek.

“Morning, love,” John whispered, unable to suppress a smile, until he focused on Sherlock’s face and caught the frown that had materialised there.

Which, in turn, made John frown. “Hey, you’re…” He let out a worried hum. “What’s the matter, love?”

Sherlock blinked, looking at John’s face in confusion. “You’re still here.”

John smiled. “Yes. I am. And I will be here, over and over, until you trust that I’ll stay forever.”

“And… Are you all right?” Sherlock asked, worry in his voice.

John let out a shaky breath. “I have to say, I don’t completely believe it yet. There’s part of me that’s still afraid something’s going to go wrong.”

Sherlock’s frown cleared. He stroked John’s cheek. “Then I will be here, over and over, until you’re not afraid anymore.”

Chapter Text

Concerning: Funding decision of proposal 57.18.95

 

Dear Drs Holmes and Watson,

 

We are pleased to inform you of the acceptance of your grant proposal with number 57.18.95, titled ‘Deductive fuzzy reasoning in autonomous robotics’. The review panel was unanimously positive about your proposal. Based on the peer reviews and your rebuttal, the board of CAMFAR has subsequently made the decision to accept your proposal.

In the appendices, you will find the terms and conditions under which the grant is awarded. Please return the acceptance letter at your earliest convenience. The starting date of the project should be at most six months after the date of the funding decision. You are expected to provide a yearly progress report on the project’s budget, administration and academic publications.

We wish you great success in your research, and will be in touch soon to discuss the particulars of the project.

 

Sincerely,
on behalf of the board of the Charles A. Magnussen Foundation for Applied Research,

J. Moriarty, president