"Sherlock... I don't know what to say."
Sherlock swallows hard, tries to ignore the warmth lingering on his lips.
"You... you know I'm straight, right?"
"Of course," Sherlock gets out. This might just be the most humiliating moment of his life.
"Right." Awkward throat-clearing. "Look, I... I'm really sorry. I didn't even realise you felt that way about me, otherwise I would've... said something."
When Sherlock can finally bring himself to move, he takes a step backwards. And another one.
"I have to go," he gets out.
"What? Sherlock, wait a minute. I-"
"It doesn't matter," he says. "Forget it."
Sherlock runs, away from the embarrassment, away from his feelings. He runs and he finds solace in the only thing that makes sense to him anymore, immersing himself in the problem thrown up by his latest experiment.
He doesn't even realise he's crying until his vision is so blurred he has to put down the pipette he's holding. He wipes his face angrily, marshals his self-control, and continues his experiment.
He avoids the dining hall that night, and for several nights after that, and spends very little time in his room, making the lab his home. Humiliation sings high and tight in his chest, cold logic the only thing that seems to distract from it. Science is all he has left, and he loses himself in it, blocking everything else out. He will not make the same mistake again.
"Thanks for coming," John says as he sits down opposite Lestrade.
"I could do with a drink. It's been one hell of a week," Lestrade answers, raising his pint to his mouth.
Lestrade sets his drink down again, brown eyes watching John intently.
"I won't pretend I don't know what this is about."
"Then you know that Sherlock..." John trails off. He can hardly think the words, let alone say them.
"That Sherlock's in love with you," Lestrade finishes quietly. "And has been for a very long time."
John sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Am I the only one who didn't know?"
"I don't think it's as bad as all that," Lestrade reassures him. "There were just a few of us who knew Sherlock well enough to notice."
"A few of you? Who else?"
Lestrade hesitates for a moment before replying. "Marcus."
The memory of Marcus's cryptic behaviour when John had thought Sherlock had feelings for him comes back in a flash, all so clear now. Marcus had known then, or at least suspected.
"He never said anything," John says out loud. The memories hurt less and less every day, but he still feels half-empty.
"Not to you, no."
John sighs, raises his head to meet Lestrade's eyes. "What do I do? I thought it would be easy to just... move past it, but everything's just awkward as arse right now."
"It's not just going to disappear," Lestrade reasons. "Hell, I don't know, it could be the first time in his life he's cared this much about anyone."
John keeps wondering about the mysterious 'one before'.
"The point is," Lestrade continues, drawing his attention again. "This is probably a pretty big deal for Sherlock. He's not just going to be able to switch those feelings off."
"I know," John gets out. "I just... I don't know what to do."
"There's nothing you can do. He has to work through it on his own, and you might just have to give him his space."
"Yeah," John agrees softly. "I think you might be right."
Lestrade gives him a half smile, and the conversation moves on to less troubling topics.
The bar is crowded with people, and it's exactly the kind of place Sherlock usually avoids. It serves its purpose, though, and even as he leans against the bar, he can count at least three pairs of eyes watching him. He looks around and spots his first observer - and dismisses him outright (accountant, dull). The second looks promising (just got out of a relationship), but it is the third stranger that catches his eye. He's shorter than Sherlock and fair-haired, and Sherlock's self-aware enough to understand why he appeals more than the others.
The man, Luke, is an artist and musician and they bond over Bach's finest works. It's not the first time Sherlock's done this, but it's been a long time and he's never been this sober before. Nevertheless, he puts on his most charming smile and sends out all the right signals. It doesn't take long for Luke to suggest a relocation, and Sherlock readily agrees. When Luke kisses him while they're waiting for the taxi, it's a shock to his system; it's been so very long since he's been close to anyone and it's almost frighteningly intoxicating.
They stumble into the taxi and sit pressed together. He wonders how he has gone without intimacy all these years. His desire flares up like an itch under his skin, and when Luke presses a hand to his thigh, Sherlock gives him a hungry look, forcing himself to ignore the fact that Luke's eyes are the wrong shade of blue. The taxi sets them down outside Luke's building and they make their way upstairs in a silence of anticipation.
The door is barely shut behind them before Sherlock pounces, crowding Luke up against the door and kissing him. It's better than he's remembered, the crush of mouths and the slip-slide of tongues, the press of bodies.
"Bedroom," Luke gasps out, and Sherlock allows himself to be half-dragged along a dim corridor towards Luke's room.
He finds himself on his back on the bed in no time and he lets out a moan as Luke mouths at his trousers. He looks down through heavy-lidded eyes at blonde hair that's too blonde, and with not enough grey - and his heart sinks.
Luke raises his head in confusion. "Something wrong?"
Sherlock sits up sharply. "This was a mistake."
He shuffles off the bed as Luke sits back out of the way, bewilderment splashed across his face. Sherlock runs a hand through his hair and makes for the door. He stops at the threshold, forces himself to turn and look Luke in the eye.
Luke says nothing and Sherlock leaves, thoroughly disgusted by himself as he slips out of the house and makes off down the road. Luke's house isn't actually too far from Baker Street and the cool air helps to clear Sherlock's head as he walks the familiar streets. His heart slowly returns to its normal rhythm, but desire has tainted his blood, leaving his skin feeling warm and over-sensitive, something visceral and desperate squirming beneath the surface.
221B comes into view, the light from the living room a welcome beacon and a stomach-turning warning at the same time. Any composure he had managed to regain is gone by the time he has climbed the seventeen steps and, when he finally forces himself into the flat, John looks up with a hesitant smile.
Sherlock reddens, shame and guilt marking his skin, even though he knows John is probably oblivious as to where he has been.
"Evening," he croaks out, hanging his coat up before heading into the kitchen. Anything to be away from John's gaze. He fiddles around with the experiment he started earlier, but can not concentrate properly.
John's voice startles him and he looks up to find John leaning on the doorframe, ill-at-ease but trying so hard for the sake of their friendship.
John smiles and disappears upstairs to his room. Sherlock pokes around the kitchen for a little while longer, then gives up and retreats to his own bedroom, throwing himself on the bed.
He kicks his shoes off and reaches his hands up to twist in his hair, as if he could purge his mind if he only pulled hard enough. His skin tingles with every shift of fabric and it's unbearable. It's all too easy to reach down and press his hand to his cock through his trousers (still half-hard and showing renewed interest now). He tries to recall the image of Luke's mouth pressed to his crotch, but his mind's eye instantly supplants Luke's features with John's too-familiar face. He lets out an anguished noise at his treacherous mind, but he's hard now, rubbing against his own hand.
With a disgusted sigh he gives in, tugging his trousers open and shoving them and his boxers down his thighs. His hand is warm as he wraps it around his cock and he lets out an involuntary gasp, throwing his head back. Every nerve is singing, aching, hungry for more, and he rocks into his own grasp desperately.
He is helpless now to stop the images his mind supplies, an endless montage of John: laughing, smiling, panted breath against his ear so close they could almost be fucking. He has no real data for the latter, but his imagination easily creates scenes that make him speed up his hand on his dampened cock.
It really has been a very long time since he's had anyone's hands - even his own - on himself and as he reaches down with his free hand to fondle his sac, he feels sensation cresting already. His fingers brush his perineum and he chokes out a moan as the sharp spike of pleasure pushes him over the edge.
Post-orgasmic lassitude does not last very long and all too soon his mind has returned to its usual buzz. He lies there with a wet patch on his shirt, and is disgusted with himself. Several long minutes pass while he is paralysed by self-hatred, and then he finally strips off his soiled clothing, discarding it in a pile by his bed.
He pulls on pyjamas and crawls under the covers, drawing them around him. He detests the creature he has become, driven by pointless desire. Useless. Distracted. There doesn't seem to be any way out of this mess, except the one option he still can't bring himself to properly consider: moving out. Living with John - and living with his resurgent libido - is torture, but the thought of going away is unbearable. Three years was long enough and he has no wish to repeat that experience.
He sighs tiredly and rolls over onto his other side, the faint ache in his ribs a welcome distraction (and punishment). Eventually, he is pulled into a fitful sleep and dreams that further torment him.
It's been several weeks and the situation is getting increasingly intolerable. Sherlock vacillates between being hopelessly awkward, and just outright ignoring John. John can't take it any longer, but whenever he tries to say something, he either gets interrupted or he just can't get the words out right. He might as well be living with a stranger, for all of the interaction he has with Sherlock. He thinks he might be losing his best friend again after all, and he is powerless to stop it.
John pecks away at the computer, attempting to reply to an email from Harry and trying to ignore the fact that Sherlock - sitting just the other side of the room, tapping away on his phone - is ignoring him. The awkward silence is ruptured only moments later when John's phone goes off. John starts and pulls it from his pocket, staring at it blindly for a moment before answering it. He can't remember the last time someone called him, and the number is withheld so it's probably not Mike.
He can practically feel Sherlock's attention being piqued from across the room.
"Why are you ringing me?" John asks. Mycroft has long since learned not to contact John.
"My brother has blocked my number."
"Right, well I'll just pass you over and-"
"I think you'd do best to hear this news for yourself," Mycroft cuts in even as John is halfway to his feet.
"What about him?" John gets out, his throat closing up.
"He has escaped from custody. Again."
There is a note of embarrassment in Mycroft's tone that, in any other situation, John would have enjoyed immensely.
"How is that possible?" John croaks.
"We're still working on that. In the meantime, you need to be extremely careful. We think Moran might be on his way out of the country but we can't be sure. As such, I have made arrangements to have you taken to a safe house within the next hour."
"I won't go," John states firmly.
"I urge you to reconsider. I don't need to remind you what happened the last time Moran came after Sherlock."
"No, you don't need to remind me," John says icily. He can feel himself trembling with an excess of emotion and suddenly he can no longer bear to hear Mycroft's voice. "Here's Sherlock."
He turns to find Sherlock hovering at his side and startles, before handing over the phone. He wanders out into the landing, unsure whether he's heading to his room or outside, but he doesn't get as far as either - his legs go weak underneath him and he sinks to the floor, back pressed to the wall as he listens to the low murmur of Sherlock's voice in the next room.
What seems like an age later, Sherlock appears in the doorway and looks down at John in surprise, before crouching by his side. He goes to reach out for John, but stops himself halfway.
"I will stop him, John."
John reaches out across the space between them and grabs Sherlock's shoulder. "I'm coming with you."
"I need to keep you safe," Sherlock says firmly.
"It's too bloody late for that. I'm coming with you."
Their gazes lock for several long moments, and then finally Sherlock nods. "Ten minutes."
John nods back and forces himself to his feet. He doesn't know where they're going, but he trusts Sherlock completely.
It doesn't take long to work out that Moran is long gone. Between Mycroft's governmental contacts and Sherlock's more unofficial ones, they soon establish that Moran has fled to Europe. John doesn't hesitate to point out that he's obviously trying to draw Sherlock into a trap, but Sherlock is long past caring. He's caught Moran twice now and, this time, he will make it permanent. He gives John half an hour to pack, and plans his next step with Mycroft.
"My influence only stretches so far on the Continent," Mycroft reminds him.
"I think that's probably for the best, don't you?"
He can almost hear Mycroft's frown down the phone.
"Be careful, Sherlock."
Mycroft hangs up and Sherlock throws his phone aside. He crouches down and takes the spare handset and SIM from his bedside table, grabbing the power adapter as well. The rush of adrenaline is familiar and he throws a few more supplies into a bag, before meeting John in the living room.
John looks serious, angry, and deadly. There is a certain look to him when he's carrying his gun, even hidden as it is, and Sherlock has to stamp down on an inappropriate surge of desire.
John doesn't ask where they're going, what the plan is, just follows Sherlock wordlessly to the door. A consummate soldier.
"I hope you've got your passport."
"Of course," John answers.
They say nothing more as they leave the house and grab the nearest taxi. Sherlock directs the driver to the airport and sits back in his chair, fingers tapping against his leg as he stares out of the window. It's the start of an adventure, but as the taxi carries them further from home, he can't help the unease that creeps up on him. There is so much at stake now. He's not only gambling with his own life this time, and he knows that John knows it too.
He glances over at John and their eyes meet. John holds his gaze, steady and certain, and for the first time in weeks, Sherlock doesn't feel the urge to turn away. There is a moment of silent acknowledgement, and then John looks away and Sherlock returns to his thoughts. He can't help wondering if it would have been this easy to take John with him three and a half years ago.