How soft the music of those village bells,
Falling at intervals upon the ear
In cadence sweet; now dying all away,
Now pealing loud again, and louder still,
Clear and sonorous, as the gale comes on!
With easy force it opens all the cells
Where Memory slept.
- William Cowper, The Task.
“‘Man Careens Off Bridge; Head and Feet Found in Boot’?”
John Watson sighs and snaps the edges of his newspaper.
After a moment: “‘Archaeologist Uncovers Centuries’-Old ‘Freeze-Ray’?”
More rustling. Another sigh.
“‘400 Magicians Turned into Rabbits at Convention’?”
“Boring?! Bor—fine. Just...okay.”
The paper rattles louder as if John is shaking it back and forth, possibly grinding it between his teeth.
Sherlock Holmes is certain John is too furious to look over at him stretched out on the sofa, so he allows himself a momentary smile. Sunday mornings in the flat are languid and perfect—a cup of tea, a fire roaring in the fireplace, the cool smoothness of a dressing gown curled around him, and John seething at him from across the room.
John’s not truly angry, Sherlock knows. When John’s angry, he appears his most cheerful—mouth stretched into a grim reaper smile, teeth bared—all the while his posture threatens, ‘go on, then.’ Presently, though, John is muttering and clearing his throat in a forceful, familiar vocal pattern, up-down. He is just as content with their weekend rituals as Sherlock is.
Sherlock steeples his fingers under his nose and closes his eyes against the weak winter light threading through the curtains. He’s working on a problem. There is something the matter with John. His moods have been darker throughout the past several weeks, his temper flaring more frequently. A snarl of anger and then, just as quickly, a friendly elbow jab to Sherlock’s side—high Watsonian praise—or the brilliant flash of a smile for the simplest deduction. Sherlock tries to loop his mind around the problem, lassoing one idea fragment before it can connect to another, before the two can dissolve into one another and re-form as something new. He plays through this kaleidoscopic mind game for several moments without interruption.
He opens one eye and turns his head to take in the open expanse of the room, where John is hunched in his chair, reading silently and with avid interest.
“Hang on a sec,” John murmurs.
“John!” Sherlock says more forcefully and sits up at once, his mind boomeranging from this break in routine.
“Hang on, I said!”
“Is it a case? Have you found us—”
“Will you,” John grits, “shut up. I am reading an article.”
“An article? What article?”
“Just, I’m almost—”
“Read it to me, aloud, if it’s so interesting.” Sherlock ends this sentence on a sneer, throwing himself against the back of the couch. His bare toes dig into the floor in an effort to keep him from getting up and pacing. He doesn’t like it when the routine shifts, when John’s attention shifts.
John glances up at Sherlock, perhaps recognizing his anxiety, before clearing his throat again—up-down, gentler this time.
“‘After compiling the results of a survey sent to nearly four thousand participants across London, the top twenty most and least hated words have been revealed.’”
Sherlock cannot contain an eye-roll.
“Oh, for God’s sake, John.”
The ghost of a smile flickers across John’s face while he barrels onward.
“‘So just which words are likeliest to make people’s blood boil? A spokesman for the paid survey site, PollsUK, which commissioned the study, said: We never imagined these were the words that would frustrate the nation.’”
“This is hardly news, you know.”
“It is to some,” John says mildly, not looking up.
“There are real things happening out there, John. Things that matter.”
John continues to read silently, ignoring Sherlock’s outburst.
Sherlock watches John’s eyes trail back and forth across lines of print. “And I don’t understand why you insist on gathering up that kindling, anyway,” he continues. He’s losing ground. “You can find everything on your mobile more quickly and without having to go outside.”
A longer pause.
Down the block, a horn honks twice, followed by a small eruption of voices, and then silence. Sherlock hears the jangle of keys and the soft thud of the front door. Mrs. Hudson is leaving for the shops, right on schedule.
He sits without speaking for a moment more and then, quietly,
John tips his head slightly in acknowledgment and picks up where he left off. “‘Queasy’, ‘yolk', 'bespoke', and ‘moist’ were all strongly disliked by the adults surveyed. ‘Sticky’ and ‘spoil’ also made the hated list, as did ‘coif’, ‘phlegm’, ‘unguent, 'rasher'—‘”
“This is what passes for hard journalism nowadays? I weep for the future.” Sherlock snorts, sinking back down onto the couch and wrapping himself up in his dressing gown. He narrows his eyes at John. “And you find this interesting, do you?”
John shrugs again. “It’s a break from the usual.”
“You know, cheating politicians, natural disasters, celebrity secrets. Murder and mayhem.”
“Murder and mayhem?”
John looks at Sherlock over the top of the newspaper. “I’m not against murder on the whole—I mean, I am. Obviously, I am—I just don’t need to read about it when we aren’t on a case. We’re mired in it all the time, Sherlock. Some days, I just want to read something that isn’t so—”
“—depressing.” John lets that sink in a moment before adding, “Pleasure reading isn’t a new concept, you know.”
“So you no longer want to read anything important.”
John sighs and folds the paper, tucking it under the edge of his teacup. “I’ll just put the kettle on, shall I?”
John hasn’t risen to the bait, but Sherlock has heard something just under the surface of John’s words nonetheless. Now he’s compelled to tick up the corners with his fingernails, to peel back the main layer and explore what’s underneath. Something’s the matter with John, and maybe, maybe, this is where it begins. The universe is rarely so lazy.
“Why this article?” Sherlock prods.
“Why this article in particular? What’s so interesting about this article?”
“You don’t find words interesting?”
“I do. But I want to know why you do.”
“I’m a writer—“
“You’re a blogger,” Sherlock can’t help pointing out.
“Yeah, which is a legitimate type of writer, Sherlock. And writers do tend to find words somewhat important.”
“Ah, yes, but this article is about popular opinion, not etymology or structure or even grammatical foibles. Yours is not an academic or professional interest. It’s a personal one. So. What about this article has you personally interested?”
John shifts in his chair, doesn’t look at Sherlock. “It was just the first thing—”
“Noooo,” Sherlock purrs.
John sighs again. Drums his fingers on the edge of his chair. Clears his throat: up-down.
“Okay,” he admits at last. “Okay, I don’t understand it.”
Sherlock smiles. He loves it when John is accidentally revelatory. He weaves his fingers together across his chest. “What don’t you understand?”
“Why people care. Why people have opinions in the first place.”
John explodes. “What’s it to anyone else if you say ‘bacon’ instead of ‘rasher’? I mean, I understand the, whatever, the poetics of word choice. I’ve been pissed off at a blank page—”
“—screen, fine, but I don’t understand why there’s heated opinion, why people are disgusted or delighted with words. I don’t understand the—”
“Yes!” John throws his arms up in frustration then slaps them down on the arms of his chair, rubbing the worn fabric under his callused fingers.
Sherlock takes care not to follow the motion with his eyes. “So, you’re interested not as a writer but as an outsider. As someone who feels very little for something that others feel very strongly about.”
“I suppose that’s right,” John says carefully.
Sherlock swivels and sits up on the couch in one elegant motion, his elbows resting on his open knees, and leans toward John like a cobra ready to strike. His next words are meant as a reward for John’s candor, and he wants to see John recognize this. “Would you like to understand?”
“Why people are so passionate about certain words.”
John laughs. It’s genuine, and Sherlock can’t help the corners of his mouth lifting in a faint mirror of John’s amusement.
“You can’t make me understand someone else’s passion, Sherlock. I either feel it or I don’t. And I don’t, which is why I find the whole thing interesting, yeah, but puzzling.”
“Of course you can understand, John. Words are powerful. They inspire, they galvanize, they can overcome. Writing them, reading them, speaking them, hearing them. They’ve more weight than even weapons. Anyone can understand that.”
John considers this and then shakes his head. “As a concept? Sure. But I read every one of those words in the paper—the hated ones, the loved ones—and felt nothing. What could possibly change that?”
“Context,” Sherlock replies. He jumps up and throws off his dressing gown, then rolls up the sleeves of his crisp, white shirt. He walks quickly toward the fireplace, drags his own chair close to John’s, and then dives into it, crouching on the balls of his feet. His hands are folded once more in front of his nose.
John watches all of this movement take place without comment.
Sherlock leans forward. His voice is pitched low, conspiratorial. “Have you ever spoken a word aloud so many times in a row that it loses meaning, becomes a foreign thing?”
“Yeah, ‘course I have. Harry and I once said the word ‘milk’ over a hundred times one afternoon. It started off sounding normal, and then it just sort of disintegrated.”
“You see, John?” Sherlock leans back in his chair. “You already understand!”
“Hang on. We could have chosen any word with the same result—”
“But you didn’t. You chose ‘milk,’ a word that’s almost onomatopoeic. The comforting strum of the M—mmmmmm—humming in the back of your throat, and then the stickiness of the end—ilk—like you’re working mucus off the roof of your mouth with your tongue—”
“You chose that word because it had value in the moment. You gave it context. And when you repeated it over and over again, you stripped it of both, and that’s when the surrealism kicked in.”
John is staring at him, bemused but unconvinced. “We chose it because we were bored, Sherlock. Because we were on an errand to buy milk. It was chance, not importance. It could have been anything.”
“That’s the context, John. Whatever word you chose in that moment became rife with significance. That’s what gives words their true power. What they mean is important, yes, but also how they’re said and what they stand for in that moment.”
John stares at him blankly, and Sherlock sighs. He knows he’s close to solving the problem. It’s the same way with any deduction, really, if a bit closer to home. He senses the space around the clue vibrating like a violin string, beating against the air molecules and disturbing them with quiet currents, circling outward from the problem. He doesn’t know what he is going to find, but he is compelled to search for it all the same.
A different tactic, then.
“Pick a word, John.”
“Just pick a word.”
John thinks for a long moment. Sherlock’s impatience rises at once.
“Pick, don’t think—you’re good at that.”
John shoots him a dark look and stays silent.
“Hurry up!” Sherlock finally bellows.
“Jesus! Fine, what word would you choose?”
Sherlock open his mouth to answer—defenestrate, he thinks, wanting to hook John with a shared memory of chivalry on behalf of their secretly adored landlady—but stops at the look in John’s eyes.
John’s voice sounds innocent enough, but Sherlock knows that look. It’s the look of John overworking his ordinary brain, trying to make a statement, trying to stage some kind of coup. Sherlock studies him a long moment, then—a revelation. “Oh!”
“That’s the one, then!” John interrupts, grinning.
Sherlock stops mid-deduction. “Sorry?”
“You chose ‘oh.’ That’ll do just fine.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, John. I’m not about to—”
“I see, so it’s not any word. It’s whatever word you assign value to.” John smiles while he crosses his arms over his chest and slides down in his chair, tucking his chin into gingham and wool. “You’ve proven my point. Ta for that.”
Sherlock narrows his eyes. There’s something else going on here—John’s too-smug smile doesn’t match the strange unease flitting just beneath the surface of his expression. Sherlock looks him over quickly.
John’s showered this morning but hasn’t shaved (distracted). He’s carelessly rumpled the back of his hair by slouching in his chair (seeking comfort). He’s still got nearly an inch of tea left in his mug but was about to start the kettle (obsessive). He won’t stop rubbing his socked feet together, over and over, like a balm (nervous).
“Close your eyes, John.”
“Because I don’t want you accusing me of cheating with gesticulations or facial expressions. You should be able to guess context from vocal shifts alone.”
John snorts. ‘I’m sure you’ll find a way to cheat regardless,” but he closes his eyes, furrowing his brow as he does. “Get on with it, then.”
Sherlock rolls his shoulders and shakes out his hands. He thinks about the word, breathes into it, takes it into himself. He studies John’s face in repose, his tense hands secured tightly under his crossed arms and his feet working against one another in a constant, circular motion. Sherlock needs to make John understand. Somehow it’s the key to all of this. Sherlock clears his throat.
He starts off simply, filling his mind with the most disappointing scenario he can imagine. Waking up in the flat on a Sunday morning—his day with John—to an unexpected visit from Mycroft, his unctuous brother rolling his eyes at Sherlock’s tattered dressing gown and sleep-rumpled hair. Sherlock peels his lip back in a sneer and flicks the word off his tongue as if spitting out a stray bit of tobacco, keeping his inflection flat, unamused.
Sherlock is rewarded by another snort from John. Sherlock smiles. John’s understood the context immediately. He lets the vision dissolve with gratitude.
Right, he thinks. Onto something more complex.
He closes his eyes again and imagines a crime scene. Adrenalin running high, clues scattered everywhere, evidence in constant danger of being trampled by the Yard’s “finest.” Whirling around, taking in the environment, the air pressure, the time of day, the position of the body. He bends down, sees a stray bit of foil, just the edge of a chewing gum wrapper, someone’s trash, perfectly meaningless, except it’s a clue, THE clue, and the crime scene unfolds in front of him at once—
“Oh!” Sherlock’s voice rings out in the flat, high and clear and equal parts astonishment and triumph. He opens his eyes to see his own hand extended as if holding up the foil to the sky, watching it wink and sparkle in the weak sunlight.
“Solved that one fast, didn’t you?”
John chuckles, and Sherlock tears his eyes away from the imaginary clue, his chest growing tight at the small smile on John’s face. John’s body has relaxed a bit, his hands sliding down from under his arms to rest lightly in his lap, palms up. Vulnerable. Sherlock pauses to stare at John’s hands before looking up at the ceiling, willing his mind back on the matter at hand.
Sherlock takes a breath, and he’s down, deep down in the morgue with Molly, examining a corpse, every moment of the brutal murder played out across bruised, blue flesh. Rapid-fire texting at Lestrade, telling the DI how and where and with what weapons while Molly is prattling on beside him, holding up the sheet while he glances at the body and back down at his phone. The entire time he’s thinking, case solved means back to the flat, means celebratory curry nicked off John’s plate because Sherlock was a prat and refused to order his own, means John’s fake protests, chasing Sherlock’s fingers with oily chopsticks and laughing. When the text is sent and the sheet is lowered and Sherlock is focused on the exit sign, Molly chides him, reminding him it’s rather polite to thank the person risking her job to help him, and he pours into his response an impatience to get back home but also pride at Molly’s self-confidence and just a touch of boredom to round the vowels.
Sherlock opens one eye at John’s low murmur, something that sounds like “marvelous” (or maybe just “arse”). The look on John’s face, a mix of incredulousness and exasperation, punches a hole through Sherlock’s ribs, pouring something bright and hot and hypnotizing into his lungs.
But this isn’t the solution. This isn’t John understanding. It’s him marveling (or insulting Sherlock) over the ordinary, the obvious. Sherlock needs something more potent.
Sherlock closes his eyes yet again and imagines himself threading his way down the steps of the flat, cautiously opening the door on a day dark with heavy gloom and portent, and finding someone unexpected on the step, a reunion both startling and unwanted… Moriarty, a wide, toothy smile, shoving a hand into Sherlock’s chest, pushing him back into the darkened hallway, back to the shadows where no one can see, a gun cocked to Sherlock’s head, trilling notes of a lunatic’s laugh echoing up the stairwell.
“Ohhh!” Sherlock exclaims, then claps his hand over his mouth as if trying to shove the word to the back of his throat. The noise is harsh in the quiet of the room, and John jumps a little in his chair, furrows his brow even deeper, but keeps his eyes shut. He turns his palms inward, and Sherlock watches while he tucks them between his knees (seeking comfort once again).
Sherlock pauses a moment, regains control over his racing heartbeat. He feels the power ebb out of the word as it echoes into nothingness. He closes his eyes again, considers the word. Oh—a fat, round vowel, and a breath of consonant at the end. Malleable, mutable. Perhaps not such a terrible choice of word after all. A log in the fireplace snaps, bringing him back to the present.
He cautiously summons Moriarty’s face again, smug and merciless and full of manic glee, and he feels the burn begin deep in his chest. Flames lick the side of his ribcage, his breath is hot and laboured in his throat—those lost, wasted years of playing dead. John’s lost, wasted face when Sherlock fell—and feels the word rising in his throat, thick and stinging with vitriol. He roars it out on a long exhale, throwing the grief and anger of their forced separation behind it, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!”
Sherlock opens his eyes to find he’s pitched forward in his chair, his hands balled into fists grinding deep into the tops of his thighs. John’s body language mirrors his—forehead scrunched as if he’s in pain, eyebrows knitted together, and knees involuntarily tucked in toward his body. Slowly, Sherlock exhales and unlinks himself from the word, letting the emotion dissipate into the air around them both.
John relaxes back into his chair, though his mouth stays tight with worry, his lips pulled down over his teeth. Sherlock feels a tiny blossom of unease unfold in his chest. John is already on edge, casually resistant. If Sherlock wants to uncover the source of John’s recent strange behaviour, he might try infusing the word with gentler tones and inflection.
As soon as John’s frown loosens around the edges, the fine, silvery bristle around his chin and top lip flattening against his skin, Sherlock allows his eyes to droop shut again. He searches his mind palace for a diamond of memory. Smooth, glittering, faceted. He’s blank for long, frustrated minutes before he forces himself to dive deep, to swim past the obvious blockades of logic and reasoning into the recesses of pure intuition. These are sacred depths, and he does not rely on them often. What he finds here is often troubling and unfathomable, but occasionally, he admits, rather accurate.
What Sherlock needs is something shared and pure. What he finds is John, staring at him from the floor adjacent the pool, sealing his own demise with a nod of his head. John, slipping his hand into Sherlock’s when they run into the night, away from home and safety. John, reaching up to the rooftop of St. Bart’s as if he could push Sherlock back from the edge with his outstretched fingers.
Sherlock feels his mouth purse, the small, awed sentiment—oh—whisper-soft on his tongue, ready for flight—
“Sherlock, give it up,” John interrupts.
Sherlock’s eyes fly open. John is looking at him strangely.
“Look, I can hear what you’re trying to get across, I can.” John is smiling, placating, but his eyes are anxious. “But it’s just playacting. This isn’t context. It’s Charades.”
Sherlock pauses to observe. John leans back in his chair, crossing his ankles, rubbing the toes of his wool socks together. He tucks his hands into the gap between the seat cushion and the sides of the chair (burrowing, seeking comfort, nervous, distracted). Sherlock looks harder, comprehension beginning to dawn. He feels the solution before he can see it or name it. He knows he’s close. The air molecules flutter around him like moth wings. And then settle.
Sherlock stops, considering. Deciding. Weighing the risk. And then.
“Close your eyes, John,” Sherlock says, as gently as possible.
John looks startled at his tone but complies, the furrows on his forehead and around his eyes softening into thin lines, dropping years from his face.
Silently, slowly, Sherlock lifts himself from his chair with his arms. He stands a moment, watching John relax. John’s breathing slows and his posture dips with trust, and Sherlock has to swallow against the lump in his throat. After all this time and everything they’ve been through, John is still game for whatever Sherlock offers.
In a rapid, soundless move, Sherlock leans forward, sliding his hands up the arms of John’s chair, effectively trapping John into the cushions. John tenses at once, hands balling into fists at his thighs when Sherlock leans closer, careful not to touch John with any part of his body.
“Sherlock,” John says with a flat almost-pleasantness, “what the hell are you doing?”
Sherlock isn’t fooled. He can sense John’s hands clenching and unclenching beneath him. He hovers there a moment, breath fanning against the side of John’s face and rifling the short hairs just above the shell of his ear. Then, barely a whisper.
Sherlock breathes, “Oh.”
John stills immediately.
Sherlock does not need to rely on a conjuring of images. This has always been with him.
Sherlock moves his head infinitesimally closer to John’s but still not close enough to touch. He inhales silently, holding the breath for a long count of three, and then exhales, flooding the single word with something close to reverence, “Ohhh.”
Sherlock hears John swallow. Hard.
He tips his head to the side, allowing the longest of his curls to trail across John’s cheek. He takes another long draw of air and breathes into the space next to John once again.
“Ohhhh,” he croons, letting his breath trace the curve of John’s cheek and curl under his chin. Then, without giving John a chance to recover, he sighs again, hitching the word at the end as if it’s being torn from his throat. ”Ohhhhhhh.” Sherlock grips the arms of the chair and dips forward, his chest suspended mere centimeters above John’s. John chokes in air, his chest expanding once, hugely, then holds his breath.
This time, when Sherlock speaks, it sounds like a sob, even to his own ears. “Oh,” he says, then louder, “Oh!”
John shifts underneath him, shrinking away from the claustrophobic press of Sherlock’s body, but Sherlock hunts him with the tilt of his head. He puts his mouth right at John’s ear, stutters the first syllable of John’s name—not vocalizing it, just hinting at a long consonant and short vowel, allowing John to imagine the grit of his teeth, the rounding of his lips.
John makes a small noise, and Sherlock chases it, running the tip of his nose alongside John’s jawline. John lifts his chin, and Sherlock ducks underneath, his mouth vibrating against John’s neck.
“Oh!” He alters the vowel sound, running his open mouth along John’s neck as he does so. “Ohhh!”
Against his lips, he can feel John swallow again, and he bites down gently on the movement, moaning the word into the back of his teeth, against John’s flesh.
John makes another wordless noise, and Sherlock pauses, feeling resistance against his legs. He looks down, his dark curls tipping into John’s field of vision like a veil. He finds he’s kneeling on the chair, his thighs on either side of John’s, squeezing him tightly. He has no recollection of how he got there but he’s gripping John like a vise, legs nearly trembling with effort.
Sherlock looks back up. John is staring at him, his eyes huge, wild, full of terror and something else—something heavier.
Sherlock tips his head back a few centimeters so he can look again more carefully.
John is panting, his mouth dropped open to suck in lungfuls of air. He shakes his head, eyebrows angled upward in helplessness.
“Sherlock,” John pleads, “if you’re having me on—”
Sherlock dips back in immediately. “Ohh,” he breathes against John’s mouth, lips not quite touching, and John shudders. He hovers there a moment, ghosting his breath across John’s lips, letting the weight of each second decide for them both. Then, Sherlock lifts one knee and rests it in the seam between John’s legs, pressing gently.
John releases outward, and Sherlock slips his long limb into the hollow. After a moment, John closes his legs around Sherlock’s and pulls him in. Sherlock’s scalp tingles with understanding. This—this—has been at core of their problem all along.
Sherlock leans the side of his face against John’s head, breathing in the scent of him—tea and soap and wool and faint cologne. He turns and buries his nose in John’s silvering hair, feels the top of John’s ear fold down when he presses his mouth to it, and pushes his leg into John, who responds immediately, rutting against him without mercy.
“Ohh!” Sherlock moans. He’s not playacting, not anymore.
The sound echoes against John’s ear and John jerks his head away. “Sherlock,” he whispers, his voice hoarse, dark. “Stop. Please, stop saying it.”
Sherlock trails his palm along John’s cheek and feels the muscles in John’s jaw jump. He open his mouth and traces the outermost whorl of John’s ear with his tongue and then exhales—”Ohhhhh”—cooling the damp path with his breath.
John goes boneless beneath him.
“Jesus fuck, Sherlock,” he growls, and grabs Sherlock roughly by the head, yanking him down.
Then Sherlock is lost, he’s swallowed alive in a tumult of John’s mouth and tongue, John’s breath heavy against his teeth, John pressed against his knee, John with clumsy fingers in his hair, John, John, John—
“—John,” Sherlock gasps, his lips bumping away to form the syllable of his name, and John pulls Sherlock back to him, pulls Sherlock’s lips apart with his own, sinking his hands deeper into Sherlock’s hair and kissing him wide open. Sherlock’s heart is pounding in his ears, but even that does little to drown out the sound of John’s chair scraping on the floor when they rock together.
Sherlock tries to remember how to lead, tries to recall that he’s been word-seducing John for upwards of half an hour, but he can’t quite remember what to do with his hands. He can barely remember what he did to turn John into this grasping, rutting, growling thing. Suddenly, it’s so hot in the flat he can’t think. His shirt clings to his back, and he feels the damp weight of his hair as it begins to wilt against his ears.
He grabs the front of John’s jumper in his fists, pulling him forward, and John follows, trailing his hands down to curl around Sherlock’s thigh, pressing it harder between his legs. Sherlock’s mind stutters—John is moving underneath him, his hips rolling up against him, and it’s all happening so fast, he can’t catalogue each breath, each noise, like he needs to. Their mouths slide apart with a filthy smack, and Sherlock’s head fills with words he’d deleted years ago: making out sucking face getting off frotting pulling riding grinding humping don’t stop please “Don’t STOP!”
He’s said this last one aloud, and John’s face flushes pink, eyes glazed and jaw slack. Something in John’s face changes, darkens, and it un-balances Sherlock. He leans forward, sliding his hand behind John’s neck. He wants to—God, he wants to ruin John with his tongue—but John presses his head back against the chair, away from Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock gives chase, but John tilts away again, a half-smile blooming at Sherlock’s frustration.
Sherlock rubs his thigh into John like a promise, and John closes his eyes, his fingers digging into Sherlock’s leg muscle hard enough to burn. Sherlock lunges again but John can sense it. He catches Sherlock by the hair before his mouth can make contact, and he holds him there, his fist like iron. John opens his eyes almost lazily and shakes his head back and forth against the chair, while Sherlock writhes and tries to recover from the heat of John’s rough handling.
“No,” John rasps, rolling slowly underneath him. “Just like this.”
While Sherlock watches, a bead of sweat slides down from John’s hairline, traces its way down his cheek, and disappears beneath John’s collar. “Take this off at least,” he says unsteadily and tugs at John’s jumper. “Too warm.”
John tightens his grip on Sherlock’s hair, and his eyes slide shut.
“JUST like this,” John says.
Sherlock nods stiffly.
John lets go of Sherlock’s hair, sliding his hand down the sweat-slick column of his throat. Sherlock unclenches his fists from John’s jumper and lays a palm against the chair cushion at both sides of John’s head, leaning into the sensation of John rocking against him, the press of John’s leg undoing him slowly. John unwinds his hand from Sherlock’s thigh and curves it under the swell of Sherlock’s arse, subtly shifting him so that—God, yes—he can feel John’s leg stroking his full length. Sherlock swallows a moan, and John open his eyes at the sound, staring at Sherlock’s throat while it rises and falls. Up-down.
Sherlock tips his head back, and John strokes his neck again, running his fingers over the muscles and tendons. John’s breathing falters when his fingers climb Sherlock’s chin and hook over the deep curve of his lower lip. Sherlock lets John run his hand over his mouth and feels him press down on the plushness of his lips before he pulls John’s fingers in and John dissolves beneath him.
Sherlock sucks deeply, running his tongue along the underside of John’s fingers, and then slides back, biting down softly on John’s fingertips until they push back in. The two men hold this rhythm for a while, Sherlock pulling John’s fingers deep into his mouth, and John pushing against his thigh. Their eye contact nearly unnerves Sherlock. John is staring at him like each pass of his lips is drawing out a measure of John’s soul. Then Sherlock curls his tongue under John’s fingers, squeezing with suction, and John breaks form, hissing and bucking his hips against Sherlock’s quadriceps. Sherlock nearly chokes on John’s fingers, and a long rope of saliva drips down the side of John’s hand. John watches it travel down his wrist. When the damp disappears into the cuff of his shirt, John lunges forward and takes Sherlock’s mouth with his own again, his spit-slicked fingers leaving trails of wetness along Sherlock’s face.
Sherlock can feel thought fragments creeping in around the edges (kissing should I but if not how then what do I), but John’s thigh is rubbing him with such wicked precision (John, JOHN) and it’s so stunningly hot (can’t stop can’t what should I please what if please John yes), they can’t hold him. He keeps losing his place. On every upstroke, Sherlock breathes into John’s mouth with a reedy, “ah!” until John pulls away with a shaky, humorless laugh.
“Jesus, Sherlock. What are you doing to me?”
“What am I doing? Tell me exactly.” Sherlock’s voice sounds bottomless, inhuman, even to his own ears.
“Driving me insane. I haven’t done this in years. Getting off like this.”
John underlines this by pressing his hand tighter against Sherlock’s arse, coaxing another involuntary “ah!” from his lips. John groans, and Sherlock can feel himself flush even warmer somehow. Impossible.
He snakes his hand up John’s jumper, his untucked shirt. “We could—instead—” Sherlock lays his hand across John’s stomach. It’s hot and soft and damp, and he only feels his palm splayed against it for a brief, aching moment before John slides his hand out and tilts his mouth up to Sherlock’s ear.
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” he murmurs.
“Do you not want—?” Sherlock hums with frustration, hips canting involuntarily.
“I do,” John says, his dark blue eyes reassuring. “But, next time—”
Sherlock stops him—somehow, he’d not thought to hope for a next time—by kissing him fiercely, licking John’s mouth open and devouring him from the inside out. He holds John’s face against his, rocks against John’s groin until John’s fingers fumble against Sherlock’s belt loops. John runs his hands down the soft charcoal wool of Sherlock’s trousers, and Sherlock feels the damp heat left behind by his fingers.
He pauses against John’s panting mouth and clears his throat in unconscious imitation. Up-down.
“You know, John,” he begins between kisses, amazed at how nearly normal he sounds. “These trousers are part of a bespoke suit.”
“So?” John grunts out, biting down on Sherlock’s lower lip until Sherlock is sure he will die from it. He squeezes his eyes against the onslaught of teeth and slippery suction, giving in to John’s ministrations for a long, sloppy moment before gathering himself again.
“So,” Sherlock continues calmly—calm-ish-ly, “I’m afraid you might be spoiling the wool.”
John rears back his head, hands still gripping Sherlock’s arse, and squints at him.
“Sorry, what?” John’s brows knit, his tone dangerously low. “Are you fucking ki—”
“—You’re, in fact, getting them a bit...moist.”
John stares at Sherlock for a long moment. Sherlock stares back, trying to keep his face blank and innocent, but then his treacherous upper lip hitches, just enough to send John into a fit of laughter.
“You mad wanker—”
Sherlock grins and dives in to kiss him again, running his tongue over John’s teeth while he’s laughing. He cups John’s face in his hands and sucks the rest of the words out of John’s mouth. John retaliates by focusing the friction of his leg, pulling Sherlock closer, and Sherlock’s eyelids begin to flutter shut, his mouth loose with need.
John murmurs low against Sherlock’s open lips, “So, you’re not more afraid—God, that’s amazing—of messing up your coif?”
Sherlock shakes his head, feeling the pressure swell unbearably at the sound of John’s volatile voice, and his vision goes white under his closed eyelids.
“N-n—ohhh,” he tries.
John squeezes just underneath Sherlock’s arse. “Because if we continue like this, it’s going to get—rather sticky.”
Sherlock is certain there is no air left in the room. Possibly in all of London.
“In fact,” John growls into his ear, “you are going to need one hell of an unguent when I fuck you—”
Sherlock comes with a shout, squeezing John’s thigh with his legs, the world flashing brilliant, brilliant, brilliant while John whispers, “Yes. Oh my God, Sherlock, yes!”
Sherlock collapses forward, the heels of his hands hitting the chair cushion so hard it bounces John toward him, almost knocking their foreheads together. John shakes his head back and forth between Sherlock’s splayed hands, his face damp and anguished.
“Sherlock, that was—God, that was gorgeous.”
Sherlock swoops down to taste the sweat gathered at John’s hairline, rubbing his mouth over the damp spikes at his crown. John reaches up to grip the back of Sherlock’s neck, pressing into him possessively.
“Hey,” he begins, but Sherlock cuts him off at once with a fierce kiss, sliding his hand between John’s legs, cupping him through his trousers, and gliding downward with the heel of his hand. John’s mouth drops open against Sherlock’s, and he presses up into his palm. Sherlock curls his fingers around John’s cock, winding his long fingers around him as much as John’s trousers will allow.
“Oh fuck, Sherlock.”
Sherlock lays his head against John’s face, his wet curls flattening against the back of the chair. He strokes John in an exacting, agonizing rhythm and mouths into John’s ear.
“John,” he says hoarsely, “Ohhhh!”
John releases a sound that Sherlock has never heard him make, a harsh “hah!” that Sherlock can feel between his metatarsals, and John nearly lifts himself off the chair, pushing into Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock watches John’s face, awestruck, while he switches his grip, pulling and releasing with a tricky twist.
“Oh, my God,” John pants, eyes shut and hands scrabbling at the arms of his chair for leverage.
Sherlock varies his speed while John’s eyelids flutter, eyes rolling underneath the closed lids, and he chokes out a series of short, guttural cries, each one searing through Sherlock like a fiery arrow. When Sherlock leans forward, trapping John’s heat between their bodies, he can feel John jerk in his hand. He closes the distance between them, pressing his stomach against his own hand and grinding against John, and moans filthily into John’s ear, “Ohhh!”
At that, John comes undone, Sherlock’s name a curse and a prayer on his tongue. Sherlock worships the heat with his fingers, murmuring in John’s ear and reveling in the wholly unselfconscious way John writhes beneath him. Sherlock unclasps his hand only when John falls back against the cushions, gathering Sherlock to him and burying his face in the damp skin of Sherlock’s neck.
Their breathing slows while the seconds tick by. Sherlock rests his head on top of John’s, and John layers kisses into the crook of his neck, under his ear, along the side of his jaw. He hums in pleasure, rubbing his curly head against the soft bristles of John’s hair, and John’s contented sigh is muffled against him.
“John,” he says.
“I’m not done with you.”
“I should hope not,” is John’s muted reply.
Sherlock is silent, solemn. He lifts his head, and John looks up at him, brushing Sherlock’s fringe away from his eyes.
“You said,” he licks his lips, “that is—there will be a next time?”
John smiles at him in fond exasperation. “Yes, you nutter. As many next times as you like.”
Science fails Sherlock for the first time. Nothing in his atomic structure should allow him to feel so full and yet so weightless.
“That’s—ah—good. That’s—” He nods, sinking his teeth into his lower lip to keep the grin from taking over his face.
John leans in and kisses Sherlock softly, teasing his lip out again with his mouth. Sherlock rests his forehead against John’s, and they sit quietly for some time. Then John runs his hand along Sherlock’s arm, and Sherlock leans back, feeling the ache in his cramped legs and backside for the first time, and tries not to wince too noticeably.
“I was putting tea on, wasn’t I?” John says lightly, and Sherlock nods, sliding off the chair backwards.
John follows, stretching his arms up overhead and sighing happily while his joints creak and pop. Sherlock appreciatively eyes the exposed strip of stomach between John’s trousers and shirt, and John grins at him, yanking his jumper down.
“I’m making beans on toast as well, and you’re eating some,” John warns.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I don’t need—”
“—Yes, yes, transport, I know, Sherlock. But your transport will need energy if I’m joining you in the shower after.”
Sherlock’s eyes light up immediately.
“One slice for me,” he concedes.
“Two,” John insists and walks (quite stiffly, Sherlock notes with satisfaction) to the cupboard to pull out their mugs.
Sherlock makes his way to their bathroom to splash water on his face, pressing his fingers into the aching muscles of his hips and arse along the way. At the mirror, he stares at himself, at the pink spots high on his cheeks and at his matted hair and too-bright eyes. He’s nearly unrecognizable with joy.
“Oh,” he whispers to himself and smiles.
“John,” he calls through the open door. “Throw on a few rashers, too!”
Over the sound of the tea things clattering, John’s laughter rings back to him like a clear, high bell.