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The repeated image

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"Have we met before?"

That is what John always says, no matter the circumstances of their meeting: "Have we met before?"

Sherlock always no: no, you must mistake me for someone else (I couldn't mistake a face like yours, John says); no, we have not; no, I couldn't forget a face like yours (Sherlock, this time).

Until, one time, he doesn't say no. One time he decides to give it a try; if it goes wrong it's only another childhood, dragged out and worn with the repetition, before he's back here, in this place.

Yes, Sherlock says this time, in the park, under the oak tree. Yes, and there's something I need to tell you. Yes, and I know already that I adore you; in fact, I don't just know it, I feel it.

This is where we always start. This is my twelfth time.

--

"Time is a flat circle," someone tells him once, back in his first life, before he knew it'd be his first instead of his only.

"Time is a flat circle. It is symmetrical. It means that everything is as it will be; the past and the future and, even, the now, is already happening. Simultaneously, always."

Bullshit, Sherlock says now. This is his twelfth time, and nothing is ever exactly the same. The only part that is, the only thing always there, a constant, is John.

--

Back in the scene where Sherlock says yes, for once, John hits him; kisses his jaw with his fist, paints his skin a myriad of yellow, purple, blue and red. Sherlock simply kisses him back, with his lips this time, and John, oh John; John lets him.

"I swear to God, if you're taking the piss–" he says.

"I'm not."

John hangs onto him, fingernails clawing into his shoulders, unsteady on his feet. To Sherlock, it's familiar. To John it must be the ugliest sense of uncomfortable, non-placeable deja vu.

"I don't even know your name," John says, and then he laughs. Sherlock is twenty-five, and it's been as long since he heard it last. It's a sound like a piece of beautifully composed music, right now played on a ragged old record-player, scratching up the sound so its melody is just slightly off.

"It's Sherlock," Sherlock says. "You're John."

John chuckles and claws, and leans against Sherlock's body, sagging with his laughter.

"Sherlock," he says, as if tasting it in his mouth. "Hm."

When he looks up, Sherlock sends him the best smile he's got, and John's expression changes. He looks at Sherlock's lips, and licks his own.

"Sherlock," he repeats. "I'm sorry I hit you. I hope it's all right if I kiss you again?"

Sherlock does it for him.

It's not often they have sex on their first evening together – they’ve done it twice; 4th (Sherlock hadn't gotten accustomed to waiting yet) and 10th (It was a sunny day, and John looked particularly stunning) life - but they do then. For once, Sherlock doesn't have to pretend that he doesn't know exactly what John likes, and how to make him so spectacularly satisfied they both don't leave the bed for over an hour.

He puts on a show for John, moving languidly, touching himself and making John watch, just like he knows it’s liked. John, possibly, does not know yet himself, because when Sherlock crawls onto his bed and fingers himself open, John seems to be so taken aback by his own arousal that he chuckles.

“You sure are something,” he says, and when he pulls Sherlock in to kiss him deeply, Sherlock can’t help but to smile into it.

He’s missed this. He’s known it; seen it there in the cards of his life since the day his memories of past lives came back twenty years ago. He’s been waiting. Finally, he thinks, finally, he has John in his arms again.

__

The first time he meets John is in his third life; he’s lived to be ninety two times over now, and this life has already stretched out those twenty-five years. Over two-hundred years is far too long to live alone, he thinks. It’s far too long to be lonely.

There are ways to kill yourself and stay dead, even with his condition, Sherlock learns later. He doesn’t know it then however, because Mycroft is very careful to keep that information from him. The real sentimentalists are always the ones swearing it off, it would seem.

Instead, he’s drugged up to the nines. Cocaine, heroine, morphine. It hardly matters what it is, as long as it makes Sherlock forget the thousands and thousands of hours he’ll have to live still.

Mycroft gets him into rehab time and time again, and it never really works, but he goes anyway because it’s a way to make connections and it’s something to do.

John comes to visit Harry. Sherlock is in the shared living room of the facility, and sees him walking down the hallway across from it. As he passes, for some reason, like in a clichéd romantic movie, he turns his head to look into the room, and their eyes meet. Sherlock feels something stirring within him that very instant; a kind of interest that he hasn’t thought alive since the first time he died.

John comes back into the room some time later, with Harry this time, and Sherlock doesn’t know either of them yet, but he will. They talk over some board-game, Sherlock doesn’t care which, and John’s face gets all tight and tense with worry.

Sherlock stays in the room the whole time, just far enough away to not seem like he is spying, or a creep, and pretends to read a book as he listens to their conversations.

He sprawls himself over the arm-chair, legs over the one armrest, head against the other, and spreads his legs the perfect amount to seem suggestive to John’s subconscious, without actually drawing attention to himself. He’s a mess then, and sex is the only definitive thing he has to offer; it’s the only thing he’s good at, when it comes to other people and catering to them.

Harry goes eventually, to the loo or for food, or either way to a place that isn’t there, and John appears by his chair, only he isn’t John yet, he’s just a young man who have caught Sherlock’s undivided attention, and that hasn’t happened for, well, any of his lives really.

“You don’t seem like the Hemmingway kind of guy,” John tells him. Sherlock looks at him over the top of the book, without lowering it yet.

“And why is that?” he asks. John smiles, perhaps just because Sherlock replied, and goes to sit by Sherlock’s legs, so Sherlock has to close them again.

“Addicts don’t usually think something is good just because other people tell them it is.”

Sherlock lowers the book; throws it carelessly to the floor in fact. John smiles, again, and even then it takes Sherlock’s breath away.

“You don’t like Hemmingway?” he asks. John shrugs; it’s a no.

“Neither do you,” he says. Then: “Alcohol?”

Sherlock shakes his head. It’s not a hard deduction to make from that, that alcohol is Harry’s demise.

John looks at his arms then; not because anything catches his eyes, it seems, but because that is the next logical step. Sherlock is wearing a T-shirt, and the track-marks are easily visible. He turns his arm around anyway, so they become even more evident; there’s no reason to lie.

“Ah,” John says; it seems almost matter-of-fact, but then he must be used to this. “Which one?”

“All of them.”

John appears unsurprised. He turns around, so the soles of his feet can be placed on the seat of the chair, between Sherlock’s legs.

“Have I met you before?” he asks.

“No,” Sherlock says. It’s the only time it isn’t a lie.

He sits up then, and puts his hands on John’s knees, then makes them into flat palms, and runs them up his thighs; this is what he’s good at, but then John’s hands come down over his, and keep them still before they come too far up.

“You find me attractive,” Sherlock says. John’s smile is small, but clear in his eyes; he’s amused.

“Yeah,” he says. “I do find you attractive.”

“I have a room. With a bed. And I’m allowed visitors.”

Still, the smile is there; now it widens.

“I don’t put out until the third date,” John says. It is clear that this is very little about that and entirely about Sherlock and wanting something else. It is marvellous, really, how John must have felt the connection, the something too. “And you can’t have those in here.”

“Am I being bribed by a stranger with sexual favours in exchange for getting clean?” Sherlock asks. He, too, is beaming now; John is interesting. John, it seems, cares.

“Yes.”

So, Sherlock does. It isn’t even that difficult, really. The drugs were always a cure against boredom and the longevity of life, and now that there’s something exciting and interesting settling in to it, too, they aren’t needed.

It takes Sherlock two weeks to get cleared and be let out, and during that time John visits him five times and talks, and talks, and talks.

It turns out that he does put out before the third date; in fact, he puts out on the first, which they have the day Sherlock gets out, and is more Chinese take-away and sex than it is a date at all. Sherlock feels more alive than he ever has when John touches him and remains smiling, and it feels only natural when he stays the night, sleeping in John’s arms.

Sherlock knows, already that first morning, that he is in love. With his experience of two lives already, he feels he can be pretty secure in the knowledge that John is the love of not just this one of his lives, but all of them.

__

Back in the current life, the twelfth one, they’ve both reached their climax, and John is holding Sherlock in his arms because he always does, because he’s always kind, at least to him, no matter the circumstances.

“So,” he says. “You did just tell me the weirdest bloody thing anyone has ever told me, and I took it at face value because I … felt something?” He says it like it’s a question. Maybe it is: does Sherlock feel it too?

“You didn’t take it at face value,” Sherlock says. “You hit me.”

“I’m sorry,” John says. He moves in to press his lips to the bruise forming on Sherlock’s jaw, and then stays by his face, as if breathing him in.

“See?” he says. “I don’t know you. Until two hours ago I could’ve sworn I’d never seen you before. And yet it feels natural for me to touch you like this, as if I’ve known you for years.”

“Familiarity,” Sherlock says. He looks up at John from the place on his chest, so their eyes can meet. “I don’t think you’re able to remember. But you must be reacting to the familiarity I feel around you, because I still have mine. Memories, that is.”

“Yeah,” John says. “About that: What did you mean by ‘twelfth time’?”

Sherlock kisses John’s chest once, the place where he’s kissed it a thousand times before, before he turns around and sprawls himself on top of John’s body, so he can look down into his facial features and study them.

“Promise me not to think me crazy,” he says.

“Maybe you are crazy,” John says. “But in that case we probably both are.”

It’s good enough for Sherlock to go on:

“I meant,” he says, “that I’ve lived before. The same life. When I die, I am reborn in the exact same place as I was, and live a life with the same people as I did, until I get my memories back and remember all of the previous lives I’ve lead.”

He’s never said this out loud to anyone who doesn’t do this, too, before. He’s never said it out loud to John.

Said person, John, looks sceptical, but he still says, “And this is your twelfth life?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says.

“And you’ve met me before?”

I have loved you, Sherlock thinks. I have more than met you. You have been the reason for my continued existence several times over.

“Yes,” is what he says out loud.

John sighs deeply, and runs a hand over his face. He seems to be considering this; Sherlock thinks he’s on the verge of being thrown out and never seeing John again in this life, or having this one with John, for the first time, in the know. He can’t figure out which one it’ll be.

“So you could probably tell me all sorts of things about me that you wouldn’t know just from these two hours, right?” John asks, and Sherlock smiles to himself, biting his lip in an attempt to hide it, because it means that John is being won over.

“You like to watch old Bond movies when you’re ill,” he says. “You’re particularly fond of Timothy Dalton. I think you find him attractive. You also like to drink milk out of the carton, which you never do at any other point. I don’t know why. It’s a bit gross, to be completely honest with you.”

John laughs. He laughs and laughs, and then he kisses Sherlock again. Sherlock smiles into it, because this is one of John’s ‘you insufferable prick, why are you always right, I adore you’ kisses.

“Do you believe me?” he asks.

John pulls away only just enough for their eyes to lock.

“Yes,” he says. “I believe you.”

__

Two weeks later, Sherlock moves into John’s flat. Their flat. He’s lived here countless of hours before.

John asks him this very question that night, as they sit naked on their kitchen floor at 3am, hungry after hours of vigorous shagging, passing their leftover take-away between them.

“Do we always live here?” he asks.

He’s touching Sherlock’s naked knee with his naked hand, and Sherlock has lived with the knowledge of his existence for twenty years without having him, so he yearns for the simple contact. Crawling into John’s lap, and tugging a little at his hair, he kisses him instead of replying. John hums into it, cups his cheeks, and kisses him back.

“Often,” Sherlock says.

“How often?”

“Seven out of ten.”

It’s the kind of words he never thought he’d say out loud. John doesn’t look uncomfortable with them, but he frowns a little, and takes a moment to bury his head against Sherlock’s neck, before he leaves an open-mouthed, warm and wet kiss there.

“When do we not?” he asks then.

“When I meet you during other times of our lives. Two times later. One time before.”

“Hm.”

It’s all John says. He seems to return his attention to Sherlock’s body then, and removes a hand from Sherlock’s chin, but puts it down to his groin instead, where he tugs a little at Sherlock’s pubic hairs.

It’s the kind of touch you’d find in an old and comfortable relationship; it’s the kind of touch Sherlock has had to hold himself back from giving too early on countless times before, so as not to arouse suspicion or panic. This time, however, it is John who falls into the familiarity of them and their dynamic almost instantly.

“Once we moved to Paris for a while,” Sherlock says.

“Mm. Did we?”

John has given over to an initiation-of-sexual-contact ritual by now. He’s pressing small kisses to the side of Sherlock’s jaw, and his hand has moved from Sherlock’s pubic hairs down to his cock, which he runs his knuckles over lightly, before he gives it a single, firm stroke.

Sherlock doesn’t mind one bit, but shifts to give John better access instead, and breathes his awakening arousal into John’s temple.

“Yes,” he says.

“Do you still speak French? Do you remember?”

John pinches his nipple, and Sherlock is already almost fully hard in his hand. He feels John’s responding arousal against his cheeks, the position he’s in lending itself perfectly for Sherlock to grind down on him. He does, and John gasps his pleasure.

“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi,” Sherlock says, and John chuckles.

“Everyone knows that,” he says, but kisses Sherlock anyway.

“Hm,” Sherlock mumbles around it. “Actually, the sentence uses the formal ‘you’, which is strange–”

He is interrupted by a kiss, before John says, “Put your legs around me,” and stands when Sherlock does, so he is carrying him, and can walk them into the bedroom.

“Which is strange,” Sherlock repeats, as John throws him onto the bed and nudges his legs apart gently, before grabbing the lube, “due to the whole nature of the request. So it isn’t really proper French.”

As he speaks, John stops his ministrations for a moment, and watches him in silence instead. The grin on his face is so wide and so much in his eyes, that it reminds Sherlock of the one he uses when he is most definitely in love. Surely, though, it is too soon yet?

“What?” he asks. John bites his lip and kisses his knee.

“Nothing,” he says. “You’re lovely.”

“I love you.”

It’s almost the same sound as John’s words, but the meaning is vastly different, and Sherlock didn’t mean to say it yet. It’s true, and he never stops while they are apart, but he generally waits a bit longer so he knows John is prepared for it.

John, however, just grins, and spreads Sherlock’s legs so he can crawl up between them and kiss him.

“I’m close,” he says.

“To orgasm?”

John rolls his eyes but chuckles. “To love,” he says.

This one, Sherlock thinks. This one is a good life.